Recruitment Struggles

Undertaking a long, multi-step project or process often involves unforeseen difficulties. While these challenges can be similarly frustrating to experience, combating them often necessitates a very different set of skills. Some problems require patience, while others require rapid ingenuity; other problems are best viewed through a creative lens, while some should be addressed as methodically as possible.

However, solving problems effectively can often default to a simple formula: one tries various solutions, fails, and subsequently bases future attempted solutions off of previous failures.

In the context of my research project, the largest challenge that I have had to deal with is recruitment. Participation in my study is limited exclusively to students at UPS, and since a large percentage of students go home during the summer months, I have a small potential sample size to draw from. However, there are still more than enough students for me to reach my minimum goal of 40 participants, as well as my ideal (and wildly optimistic) goal of a sample size of 80 participants. Despite the fact that I am offering $5 as compensation for participation, it has been difficult to find a steady flow of participants.

I initially thought that it would be sufficient to advertise solely via flyers placed around campus that advertised my study. Theoretically, the allure of getting $5 for 30 minutes of participation would be too much for some students to resist, and I would be overwhelmed by potential participants clamoring to get a piece of the action. In reality, the experience thus far had been vastly different. I’d be lying if I were to say it wasn’t a little bit of a letdown when, after putting up my flyers, I received little to no interest in the first week.

However, I also knew that in order to optimize the number of potential participants, I needed to undertake a more active, personable, and tangible recruiting process. The frenetic pace of daily life makes it difficult for a student to pay attention to every poster or flyer that they see, much less consciously decide to consider the information that it displays. By deciding to go around to summer classes and actively present about my research to students, I knew I had a much better chance of engaging them.

If I were going from classroom to classroom, handing out surveys, and simply asking students to fill them out, I would have no problem; people are not inherently opposed to participating in research studies, nor are they inclined to not want $5! However, participation in my study is different – it requires conscious effort – potential participants have to clear space in their schedule, contact me to set up a time, and show up and participate. That’s a significant amount of work, with a relatively small incentive; I can completely understand how other concerns and interests can make prioritizing research participation an afterthought.

Despite these initial setbacks, I am determined to continue working to get as many participants as I can. While it can be difficult at times, every single person that I get counts, and I frequently have to remind myself that, quite literally, “they all add up”. Hopefully the coming weeks will see steady, progressive participation as I look to reach my goal of 40 participants!

Research Reflections

A brief demographic questionnaire from the study.

A brief demographic questionnaire from the study.


Hi everyone! I’m Stephen Baum, a rising senior and psychology major. This is my first ever blog post, as well as my first summer conducting research independently, which, initially, was a slightly daunting prospect. While I was incredibly excited and humbled to have received a summer research grant, I was anxiously aware of the challenges that lied ahead. Somewhere along the line, I visualized myself drowning in a sea of journal articles that I was hopelessly inept at trying to interpret. However, thanks to the support of my advisor, Jill Nealey-Moore, (Ph.D, Psychology) I have neither downed nor am I (completely) inept at reading and analyzing articles; thus far, the research process has been fantastic and extremely rewarding, albeit challenging.

While I can’t speak entirely about the specifics regarding my research, as I am still running participants and don’t want to compromise the scientific validity of what I am testing, my research generally examines how an individual’s mood alters as a function of various tasks that they perform. Participants in my study come into the lab, complete several written exercises and questionnaires, and are then compensated for their participation. The study in its entirety takes around 35 minutes, which, figuratively speaking, is in a “sweet spot”; long enough to comprehensively examine how the tasks influence mood without leaving a participant overly fatigued and potentially compromising their ability to concentrate.

As a whole, my reflections on conducting research thus far are positive. It is very apt to characterize a considerable portion of the research process as unglamorous; for every significant finding or “eureka” moment, there are hours and hours spent in the lab, at the computer, or the library, meticulously sorting through the world of online publications, struggling with the margins on a set of questionnaires, and agonizing over the heading on a written activity. Research is inherently painstaking, and it highly prioritizes attention to detail; those that put in extra effort will be rewarded with the most fruitful, and often, most unexpected findings. Since a significant portion of the validity in experimental psychological research rests in ensuring that each participant in the study has as identical of an experience as possible, minutia cannot be ignored. In this way, routine is a researcher’s best friend, as the experimental procedure for each and every participant follows a pre-drafted “script” that standardizes language and controls for deviations. While some may find this monotonous, the process is incredibly inherently satisfying for me, as I get a certain gratuitous please out of agonizing over organizational details and running a participant directly according to the script.

Additionally, being able to work in such close proximity to Jill and pick her brain has considerably advanced my academic development. The axiom “work smarter, not harder” comes to mind – while research does require you to work (very!) hard, which Jill demonstrates, it rewards innovative, critical though and harnessed spontaneity. Observing Jill’s careful and analytical reasoning has enabled me to grasp the value of such traits in an experimental setting.

Watching my thought process systematically evolve from when my research project was in its fledgling stages has been incredibly gratifying and empowering. I believe that largely due to the help of those around me, I’ve been able to progressively develop a variety of skills that will benefit me even outside of an academic research setting, such as the ability to problem solve in difficult situations, or ration time and resources in an advantageous manner.

So that is about it! Hopefully I can keep everyone up to date with my adventures in the lab as my study progresses. I’m looking forward to being able to speak more freely about the semantics of my research and the theory behind it. Stay tuned!