Monday, September 19, 2011

Psychology Major Overview & Capstone Update

I'm writing the first draft of this entry while I listen to the soothing sounds of Charlton Heston in Orson Welles' (1958 version of) Touch of Evil. Nothing nicer than a "stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town" on a Monday evening; shared, of course, with the students of SCRN 231.

I want to focus this entry on my psychology capstone - PSYC 270: Advanced Topics in Social Psychology, taught by Prof. James Laird. Because I'm not certain I've previously done so, I shall first explain what I'm referring to when I reference my capstone. So, to begin, here's a basic overview of the requirements necessary to fulfill in order to become a psychology major at Clark University, summarized from information provided on the Clark website here and here).


which is a broad overview of the field of psychology taught at Clark. Sometimes students with AP credit from high school can skip this and move right onto the other intro courses, three of which are


The psychology department recommends fulfilling these three courses within the first two years at Clark. Students often complete these courses while simultaneously taking courses from the Basic Processes (BP), Developmental (DEV), and Social/Personality (S/P) content areas. The requirements dictate that a student must take one course from each of the three content areas. For example, I completed

PSYC 143 - Human Sexuality (for my BP credit)
&
(both of which count towards S/P but interest in the topics led me to take both)

After the seven intro courses have been completed (psych 101, statistics, qualitative methods, quantitative methods, one BP, one DEV, & one S/P) the student then moves onto the two mid-level courses, (1) a seminar, and (2) either a lab or a research course. A handful of courses for the mid-level requirements are offered each semester. It is recommended that these two courses are completed during the third year at Clark, but I am somewhat of an anomaly and have yet to complete either, which I will be doing next semester. This is an excellent example of the flexibility of the order of course requirements, though I'm sure it's a bit neater to complete them in the suggested order. Because course offerings differ from semester to semester for these two requirements, I'll instead give you summaries (taken from here) of what these types of courses entail. 

- First Seminar (PSYC 237 - 259): focuses on the attentive analysis of psychological texts, the articulation of opinions concerning psychological issues, and the use of library and reference skills in psychological writing.
- Laboratory Requirement (PSYC 200 - 214): focuses on doing psychological research including planning, data collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation. The laboratory requirement may be fulfilled by taking a research course.
- Research Courses (PSYC 215 - 235): are opportunities to participate in faculty and/or graduate student research projects, in all stages of the research process from conceptualization to presentation. The work normally terminates in an Academic Spree Day presentation and/or co-authorship of a scholarly paper or conference presentation.

As I said, I have not yet completed my First Seminar nor my Lab/Research requirements. However, I am in the process of completing the final step in the psych major process: the capstone course. It is recommended that the capstone is completed during the fourth year at Clark (and after the completion of the mid-level courses, though so far I'm fine having not done either). There are three options for capstone courses (1) Capstone Seminars, (2) Capstone Research, and (3) Internship and Directed Studies. Again, because the courses vary per semester, I'll offer brief summaries of each type. My capstone, PSYC 270, is a capstone seminar.

- Capstone Seminars  (PSYC 260-297) are open to undergraduates, and in many cases, to graduate students, and are taught at or near the graduate level.
- Capstone Research (PSYC 292) courses are by faculty permission only. Capstone research students should expect to write a substantial research report describing the theory, methods, statistical method, results and conclusions of the project they conducted.
- Internship (PSYC 298) and Directed Studies (PSYC 299) may count as University credits, but not as major credits.

So there you have it! An overview of the psychology requirements at Clark. And now, to move on to specifics about my capstone seminar. 

The course, though titled Advanced Topics in Social Psychology, has a more specific focus this semester. Prof. Laird chose an overall topic of "consciousness", and each student will be presenting information on a specific sub-topic on an assigned date. The presentation will involve a fifteen-page paper and a powerpoint presentation. 

I am excited about the topic I've chosen to research - it's called prosopagnosia, or "face blindness". In essence, the disorder is defined by a person's inability to recognize faces, even one's own, or those of close friends and family members. The author/professor/physician Oliver Sacks references it in the title of one of his books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. In addition to writing about the topic, Oliver Sacks identifies as having prosopagnosia.

I don't know too much about the topic yet - I am presenting on Nov. 28th, and will begin my research during this next or two. Because I am presenting later in the semester, the professor anticipates that I will have a nicely prepared and well-edited presentation & paper (seriously, those presenting sooner are expected to be less prepared, but will have more time to edit; those presenting later have more prep time but less time to edit after receiving feedback from classmates and the professor). Upon doing more research, I will update with specific information about the topic, in addition to my plans for the paper and the presentation.

The film (Touch of Evil) is about over, so I will wrap up this entry now. I hope everyone's well and enjoying the recent drop in temperature - feels like Autumn is nearing (ooh, nearly time to take Clark-in-the-Fall pictures). Until next time!

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