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November 24, 2010

ULM's Social Science Research Lab touted in psychology journal

Two University of Louisiana at Monroe professors were recently interviewed for The Psychology Times, Vol. 2, No. 3, where they touted the work of ULM's Social Science Research Laboratory.

Psychology Professor Dr. Joseph McGahan and Political Science Professor Dr. John Sutherlin co-founded the training laboratory, which uses an interdisciplinary team to promote community and economic development, while providing an opportunity for students to hone career-enhancing research skills. Two of its students, Jessica Phillips and Matt Van, recently met with a small group of psychology professors and their students at a Louisiana Psychology Association-sponsored event in Baton Rouge where discussion focused on current and future plans for the lab.

"Given our interest in working with others, we saw this opportunity as an additional opportunity to cultivate partnerships," noted McGahan, who told the Times that years ago his primary goal was to help students get into competitive doctoral programs.

"Although we had some success, I also became increasingly aware that many psych majors ended up working in retail jobs where they appeared less than thrilled," said McGahan.

McGahan said marketing professors informed him that psychology and social sciences were often augmenting and, in some cases, replacing economics. The SSRL's creation in June 2007 is addressing this issue by facilitating a diverse group of faculty and students in interdisciplinary research. Professors from psychology and political science, and also from fields as diverse as educational technology and criminal justice, blend their knowledge and expertise to work with students in applied research and service-learning projects to benefit the community's economic conditions. For example, for the past year the SSRL has cultivated a relationship with the West Monroe Community Center, expressing a particular interest in AmeriCorps.

The lab's developing projects include international psycho-educational approaches to conflict, and renewable energy collaborations with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. In addition, graduate and undergraduate students are working on a MacArthur Foundation grant obtained by Dr. Jana Sutton of Marriage and Family Therapy that addresses reforms to the juvenile justice system.

The variety of services provided by the lab, including marketing reports, reliability and validity studies, surveys, focus groups, and controlled experiments, provides students with skill sets that enhance their career opportunities, according to McGahan and Sutherlin, while also benefiting the community.

"In the three plus years since the inception of the SSRL," McGahan noted, "we have worked on numerous health science and law related projects. So I encourage my students to consider dual majors, minors, even just coursework that would prepare them to work in these fields."

McGahan stated that given the current interest in evidence-based programs, he encouraged his students to master measurement, statistics, and research design so that they could market themselves as research consultants for organizations that are pursuing grant related funding opportunities.

"If they learn to think of themselves as researchers, they can bring that skill set wherever they go, even if just to a psychiatric institution," he said.

To learn more about the Social Science Research Lab, visit

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