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W. Hills, T. Pettijohn II

Coastal Carolina University (UNITED STATES)
Few studies have investigated the scientist-practitioner interests of undergraduate psychology students, although informal observations (e.g., number of applications by program type) suggest that practitioner interests are predominant over research interests for undergraduates in their choices of graduate school programs. The insertion of a science-communications class, as a first course in a sequence of required research classes for undergraduate psychology majors in a mid-sized American university provided an opportunity for a psychology program to shape a student's worldview of psychology as a discipline firmly grounded in science, and, perhaps, increase student interest in research- focused careers of psychology. Specifically, this report describes and examines career specialty choices of students enrolled in a semester-long, science communication class before and after exposure to a series of assignments structured to present psychology as a thriving science- and research-based discipline. Students enrolled in two sections of an undergraduate psychology communication course (n=34) completed the Scientist-Practitioner Inventory (STI; Leong & Zachar, 1991) at the beginning and end of the semester. The Scientist-Practitioner Inventory (SPI) includes 42 likert-style questions related to interests in the practice and science of psychology. The psychology communication course explored the roles of psychology as a science in oral and written communication, including developing communication skills through examination of the literature in the field. Freshmen and sophomores typically complete the course after completing Introduction to Psychology and before embarking on statistics, research methods, and independent research through additional classes and with individual faculty persons. Assignments of the class are purposefully constructed to reflect a "reductionistic-positivistic causal paradigm" (Leong & Zachar, 1991; p. 331) emphasis of the psychology department, as a whole. As expected, students showed a stronger preference for practice related areas of psychology than science related areas of psychology at both the beginning, t(33)=7.47, p<.001, and end, t(33)=7.47, p<.001, of the course. Students also showed greater interest in the subareas of the STI related to practice (therapy activities, clinical expert/consultant, tests and interpretation) compared to subareas related to science (research activities, teaching/guiding/editing, academic ideas, statistics and design). We were also interested in changes in these interest areas over the semester. Difference scores were calculated to determine the student interest changes from the beginning of the course to the end. Student interests remained relatively stable. There were no significant differences between pre- and post-scores in the overall scientist or practitioner areas or subareas of the STI, ps>.05. Present findings of undergraduate differences are discussed in light of examination of design of science communication exercises intended to emphasize science aspects of psychology. Further, discussion of results addresses empirical research examining personality differences hypothesized to exist for professionals and graduate students and direct individuals to careers in different work environments.