What is an SMP?
The St. Mary’s Project is a year-long, 8-credit, independently executed course of study intended as a capstone experience for a student’s time at St. Mary’s. Working in close conjunction with a professor, you have the opportunity to explore, in depth, a research question or idea that intrigues you. SMPs must be shared with the College community through posters, presentations, or other means. Majors may complete eight semester hours of the St. Mary’s Project in any established academic discipline or cross-disciplinary study area.
This project is typically completed over two semesters but can also be extended to additional semesters in special circumstances. Because it is a capstone experience, it must demonstrate the mastery that is ordinarily expected of a person receiving a BS degree. Specifically, your project must demonstrate (at a minimum) satisfactory performance in regard to the following criteria:
The College has established certain guidelines for the SMP:
- It must be student-initiated
- It must demonstrate methodological competence (by identifying an area to be explored and proposing a method of inquiry appropriate for the topic)
- It must draw on and extend knowledge, skills of analysis, and creative achievement developed through previous academic work.
- It must include a reflection on the social context, the body of literature, or the conceptual framework to which the project is a contribution.
- It must be shared with the larger community through some form of public presentation
Psychology majors who started at SMCM in Fall 2018 (catalog year 2018-2019) and afterwards are required to do an SMP. They can choose to complete an SMP in psychology, another major discipline, or a cross-disciplinary study area. If you are planning to complete an SMP with a mentor outside of psychology, you must indicate as such using the online SMP Interest Form on or before the Friday of the 6th week in the second semester of your junior year. If you choose to go this route, you will need to follow the policies established by those departments to declare your interest and/or solicit a mentor in the field you have chosen.
Psychology majors who started at SMCM before Fall 2018 (catalog years prior to and including 2017-2018) not required to do an SMP but rather can choose do the Alternative Capstone Experience instead.
What do you do for your St. Mary’s Project in Psychology (PsycSMP)?
You have two options. In both options, you will first complete a comprehensive literature review of a research topic.
- The first option is empirical: using data (newly collected, archival, interview, etc.) to answer a research question. This may involve hypothesis testing and use of statistical methods to analyze the data.
- The second option is product-based: applying what you learned from your literature review to create a product. For example:
- a book ( for “The Consequences of Negative Representation of People Who Stutter (PWS) in the Media,” after completing a review and analysis of available media, student authored and illustrated a children’s book with a main character who stuttered)
- a handbook or brochure (“If #MeToo Happens To You: Research Driven Pathways For Survivor Recovery And Empowerment” created a brochure)
- an informational website (“The Risks and Motivations for Nonsuicidal Self-injury among Adolescents and Young Adults” resulted in the creation of self-harm resource website
- a project proposal (“Using Dolphin Assisted Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders”), or program proposal (“Prejudice Program Designed for First-year College Students”
- a documentary
How to choose a topic for your SMP
In general, PsycSMPs are related to a SMP mentor’s area of research. Why?
We’ve found it is especially beneficial for the SMP student if they work within an area in which a faculty member has previous research experience or content knowledge. It is likely you will 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 detailed Faculty Research Interest Info on our website; 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. There is also a Faculty Research Interests Quick Guide in print copy in the psychology majors’ resource area by Goodpaster 127.
Also think about:
- What are your career interests?
- What was your favorite class in terms of content?
- Would a project you worked on during a directed research experience be something you would like to pursue further?
Since you will be working on this project for a year, if not longer, you want to identify a topic/research question in which you are interested. 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.
Some other things to keep in mind
Remember, this is a 400-level project and you need adequate preparation. Successful completion of Research Methods is a prerequisite. Although it is not a requirement, it is especially helpful to have completed at least one 300-level lab course.
Working on your SMP will be intense at times (what course isn’t?) While course preparation helps, ultimately your time management skills will be the biggest help. You will be meeting with your mentor, in most cases 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.
When to start thinking about your SMP
Start thinking about ideas early in your college career. Exploring possible topic ideas during your sophomore and early-junior years gives you plenty of time to make decisions before your senior year. Here’s a suggested timeline:
- Consider your interests in the various areas of psychology offered at SMCM. As you progress through your psychology major, you will be exposed to different faculty members’ research interests. Keep track of those research areas (and questions) that you find particularly exciting; these interests will be used to pair you with an SMP advisor.
- Don’t be too specific, keep it broad.
- Browse the PsycSMP abstract database
- Before your meeting with your academic advisor during advising week, examine the Faculty Research Interests Quick Guide and research interests as outlined in greater detail on the department website.
- You will be required to attend the Research Opportunities Showcase. In your meeting with your advisor, you should discuss the research you heard about and which topics you find particularly interesting. This conversation will be revisited each semester with your advisor and in your Research Methods or Research, Analysis, and Writing II course.
First semester of junior year
- Talk to friends and seniors doing projects.
- You are required to attend the Research Opportunities Showcase in September (watch your email, psyc program TV in Goodpaster Hall lobby, and flyers for notice!)
- Review Faculty Research Interests (on website in detail; Faculty Research Interests Quick Guide print copy outside Goodpaster 127)
- Consider whether you want to collaborate with other students
- Think about whether you want to do the project in your senior year with a traditional credit distribution of eight credits spread evenly across FA-SP or need to do some other variation (possible but not recommended).
- If you plan to start early (i.e., 2nd semester of junior year), submit the online SMP Interest Form and Proposal Form (if applicable; linked from within interest form) by 11:59 pm on the Friday of the 6th week of classes.
Second semester of junior year
- Decide if you want to collaborate with other students.
- Visit the Career Development Center and talk to the staff there if you want to include an off-campus component (e.g., internship) to your project.
- Talk to the k-12 education facilitator in the Department of Educational Studies if you would like to use the local public school system
- You are required to attend the Research Opportunities Showcase in late Jan/early Feb (watch your email, psyc program TV in Goodpaster Hall lobby, and flyers for notice!)
- Submit the online SMP Interest Form by 11:59 pm on the Friday of the 6th week of classes.
- The SMP Interest Form requires you to choose and rank two general areas of interest in Psychology at SMCM. From these choices, you will then rate your interest in a number of possible topics/research questions related to the respective areas. You MUST complete the SMP Interest form regardless of the next statement.
- If after reading through all of the available topics, you feel that there is a different topic you really want to pursue, you can elect to write a 3-page proposal (with at least 3 references) about your topic of choice. Proposals meeting established guidelines are due electronically via the Psychology SMP Proposal Form (linked from within the SMP Interest Form) by 11:59 pm on the Friday of the 6th week of classes.
- Please note that you can propose an alternate project, but it is not guaranteed that it will be feasible/approved.
- Attend presentations on SMP Days at the end of the semester.
Highlighted SMP Projects
Ertman, Benjamin. (2018, May). Is it Better to Simply Suppress My Negative Emotions? Effects of Parental Ignoring and Low Expressivity on Child Outcomes
mentor: Dr. Scott Mirabile
Gorovoy, Amy. (2017, May). Twitter User-Generated Content and Consumer Behavior.
mentor: Dr. Jennifer Tickle
Madden, Maxwell. (2018, May). Examination of the Mechanism of the Fast Acting Antidepressant L-655,708.
mentor: Dr. Aileen Bailey
Morgan, Emily. (2018, May). A Qualitative Study of Therapists’ In-session Tears.
mentor: Dr. Libby Williams
Thompson, Rachel. (2019, May). Singing to Learn: How pitch information facilitates encoding and retrieval.
mentor: Dr. James Mantell
Check out other showcase projects
Alternative Capstone Experience
The ACE consists of PSYC490: Senior Seminar in Psychology (four credits) plus four additional credit hours chosen from*:
- PSYC 402: Advanced Research Methods and Statistics
- PSYC 405: History & Systems of Psychology
- PSYC 410: Service Learning
- PSYC 474: Psychological Assessment
- PSYC 497: Directed Research (4 credits, graded)
- or an additional laboratory course in psychology
Although the exact requirements for Senior Seminar may differ somewhat from section to section, it will generally involve an extensive literature review on a topic of your choice (usually 30 pages excluding the title page and references), a 30-minute oral presentation, and some additional requirements (for example, providing a review and critique of one or more of the papers written by other students in the class). Empirical research is never a requirement.
*As we are phasing out the ACE, we will not be able to offer as many ACE courses. Thus options for the second four-credit course are becoming more limited and students should take this into consideration. It may be in your best interest to move toward the SMP.
If you are planning to complete an ACE sequence in order to fulfill your senior capstone requirement, you must submit the online ACE Declaration of Intent form by 11:59 pm on the Friday of the 6th week of the second semester of your junior year.
SMP vs. ACE (for those in catalog years prior to AY 2018-2019)
Although the ACE will involve a different set of activities than the SMP, it will not involve less work. The two courses that make up the alternative experience are designed to require as much effort and time commitment as an SMP. Alumni have indicated that their SMP was a positive learning experience and was especially helpful in preparing them for grad school (most especially for those who did empirical projects) and puts them ahead of peers. Also, completing a SMP looks good to potential employers (thanks to the development of marketable time management and critical thinking skills that naturally go along with conducting an SMP).
Perhaps choose ACE over SMP if…
1) You definitely know graduate school is not in your future (but never say never…plans change).
2) It works better within the schedule you need to graduate on time (Senior Seminar and the other 4 credit course can be completed in the same semester; a SMP cannot be done in 1 semester)
3) The rigor/demands of a student-initiated project do not fit well with your learning style (i.e., you require more structure. The “structure” will come from the second non-senior seminar course, as Senior Seminar has a lot of student self-direction. In many ways, Senior Seminar is like the first semester of the SMP with the goal of completing a literature review by the end. Some students, once done with Senior Seminar, comment that they should have just done the SMP because with the amount of work they put towards their topic they would have liked to pursue it further.)