Ali Herrington '14 presents her SMP

What kinds of research have our SMP students done?

  • When Love Hurts: The Development of A Domestic Violence Intervention in the Immigrant Hispanic Community
  • Strategic Self-Presentation and Sexuality in Gay, Straight, and Bisexual Online Dating Profiles
  • The Effect of Emotion on Memory
  • Modeling Impaired Decision Making: Impulsivity and Risk Taking in the Neonatal Ventral Hippocampal Rat Model of Schizophrenia
  • Talking to Children about Death and Dying: Communication in Families Facing Pediatric Cancer

Check out the database of past PsycSMP abstracts

Dr. Wes Jordan with Stephania D'Abrosio, Nicole DeAngeli, Michelle Klima, and Heather Pribut.

SMP Spotlight

48 students completed an SMP in psychology in AY13-14. Congratulations to them all!

At the end of each year, mentors select particularly outstanding SMPs to be featured in our PsycSMP Showcase. 13-14 Showcase projects were written by Stephania D'Ambrosio, Nicole DeAngeli, Allison Herrington, Michelle Klima, Meshan Lehmann, Heather Pribut, and Ciara Willett.

+ VIEW Showcase Project Details

Getting Started on Your St. Mary's Project in Psychology

What, when, why. . . all important questions when you are beginning to prepare for a St. Mary's Project in Psychology! Here are some tips to get you pointed in the right direction.

What is a PsycSMP? Check out the Departmental Project Guidelines and then view our PsycSMP showcase and/or the Catalog of Past PsycSMPs to get an idea of the research our past SMP students have done.

Students sometimes mistakenly believe that all PsycSMPs must conform to a specific model; for example, that every SMP must involve data-collection, hypothesis testing, and use of statistical methods to analyze the data.  Although many SMPs fit this description, not all do.  An SMP cannot simply consist of a literature review, but a variety of other approaches and methods can be and have been used in designing and completing SMPs.

E.G. Some students undertake an in-depth content/literature review that results in the creation of a book (e.g. Autism Awareness: Journeys in Autism Through the Eyes of the Families; The Stressors and Coping Strategies of Parents Raising Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders), handbook (Beyond Cutting Classes:  A Guide for Middle and High School Educating Professionals on Adolescent Self-mutilation), informational website (e.g. A Miracle Manifested: The Need for a New Public School System), or program (e.g. T.O.Y. Transforming our Youth, Developing a Women's Center in India, an anti-bullying program at Lexington Park Elem, a program to address adolescent depression in high schools, a program designed to educate first year college students about prejudice) or is paired with information gleaned from interviews (e.g. Can Communities Treat Drug-Dependent Youth? A Documentary of an Adolescent Therapeutic Community in Germany, Inclusion: A Teacher's First Experience), case-studies (e.g. A Case Study of a Center for Children with Disabilities in Rural Guatemala: Providing Services with Few Resources) or animal observations (e.g. Aggression, Affiliation, and Vocalization Patterns in the California Sea Lion, Developmental Differences between Cetaceans (whales) Reared in Captivity and Reared in the Wild).

What do you do for your St. Mary's Project in Psychology? Don't know? Not sure? Start simple. You don't have to decide all at once. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What areas of psychology interest you?
  • What are your career interests?
  • Do you want a project to include specific experiences such as doing an off-campus internship or conducting laboratory research?
  • What was your favorite class and why?
  • Would a topic from a class be something you would like to pursue further?

The key to identifying a topic area begins with your interests. Talk to your professors and friends. Maybe they can suggest some new areas or connections you hadn't considered.

Since you will be working on this project for a year, if not longer, you want to find a topic/research question that you are sincerely interested in and enthusiastic about. It must be something that is realistic to accomplish given the resources available to you. In most cases, this is not an issue, but if it is your mentor will help guide you to a more feasible path.

Consider faculty expertise

All of our faculty have supervised a number and variety of projects, but each faculty member has a general area of expertise. We've found it is especially beneficial for the SMP student if he/she works within an area in which a faculty member is familiar. It is likely you have not had a class with every psyc dept. faculty member and are not aware of their specialty areas. Thus we have provided you with a packet of Faculty Interest Sheets; Each faculty member has listed possible SMP topics that are within their area of expertise & interests and that they would be especially well-qualified to supervise.

When do you need to start thinking about your SMP? Start getting ideas early in your college career. Exploring topic ideas during your sophomore and early junior year gives you plenty of time to make decisions before your senior year. Here's an ideal timeline:

First year students and sophomores:
  • Consider your interests, keep track of favorite and interesting topics.
  • Don't be too specific, keep it broad.
  • Talk to friends and seniors doing projects.
First semester of junior year:
  • Explore your interests by answering questions above.
  • Talk to faculty and seniors doing projects.
  • Consider whether you wish to incorporate an off-campus experience (e.g. internship) into your project.
  • Consider whether you want to collaborate with others. Note that collaborating with students will not necessarily make your work load easier (i.e. the complexity of the project will have to be such that is worth 16 credits as opposed to 8)
  • Consider whether you want to utilize the local public school system 
  • Think about whether you want to do the project in two 4-credit blocks or employ some other sequence (i.e. include a third term or a summer). 
  • If you plan to start early (for example, your 2nd semester of your junior year), please fill out a SMP Declaration of Intent form and turn into Angie Draheim, SMP Coordinator (see instructions below) during the advising period.
Second semester of junior year:
  • Narrow your choice to one or two topics and consider faculty specialties and interests so that your mentor needs can be met properly.
  • Discuss and develop your topic ideas with faculty members who might be good mentors.
  • Talk to Dr. Dana Van Abemma of the Career Center if you want to include an off-campus component to your project.
  • Talk to Julia Bates, education coordinator, if you would like to use the local public school system
  • Decide if you will be collaborating with a fellow student.
  • Have a good idea of what you want to do by advising day.
  • Inform the psychology department of your intentions by completing the SMP Declaration of Intent form. You'll notice that there is a space to list faculty interest sheet topics that may relate to your topic idea(s). The various faculty interest sheets are available on the web at  Turn in the completed form to the SMP coordinator (Angie Draheim- GH125) during the advising period prior to starting your SMP (e.g. forms due during spring advising for projects starting in the fall).

Why start early? To save yourself from the panic of returning for your senior year without an idea of what to do next. Former students have said they wished they had started preparations at the end of their junior year. For example, students who do not request a mentor before enrolling in a St. Mary's Project will be assigned a mentor. If you follow the above time line and have a topic in mind and what you want to accomplish, you will get yourself off to a good start on your project!  

Beginning the project

The main issue, of course, is that you want to have a reasonably solid research question in mind when you start the project-while you generally have a few weeks in the beginning of the project to hone in your ideas, it is especially helpful for you to already have some idea of the research that has already been conducted on your topic. If you already have this figured out beforehand you will have plenty of time to focus on delving into your topic and producing a quality SMP. You do not want to get halfway through your project and decide you need to start fresh. Then you would be doing about 8 credits worth of work in 4 months-this is very hard to do successfully! Don't procrastinate, but take the planning a step at a time. You don't need to have a detailed plan of action for the entire project, but you do need to have a sense of what you want to accomplish.  

Some other things to keep in mind

Remember, this is a 400-level project and you need adequate preparation. Research Methods (and thus Stats) is a pre-requisite. And although it is not a requirement, it is especially helpful to have completed at least 1 400-level lab course.

Working on your SMP will be intense at times, and course preparation helps, but ultimately your time management skills will be the biggest help. You will be meeting with your mentor, in most case once every one or two weeks. Since you are not required to be sitting in a classroom at a specific time on a few specific days throughout the week, it is mainly up to you to keep yourself on task. Be sure to note and stick to deadlines!