Section 19 - The Major Research Project
You will be working on your major research project over all three years of the course, and it will obviously require a substantial commitment of time, effort and emotional energy. These guidelines are intended to describe the process of doing the project, to outline the timetable, describe the main tasks and give you the information needed for submitting the completed thesis.
We hope that doing your major research project will be a stimulating and rewarding experience. It gives you the opportunity to explore your chosen topic in depth, and possibly will convey a sense of the excitement that comes with learning something new. Also, since research competence is important for the work that clinical psychologists do, the project will help you acquire professional skills of lasting value.
The research thesis should be an original piece of empirical work relevant to clinical psychology, which demonstrates your ability to apply scientific principles and undertake rigorous investigation. The course supports a pluralistic approach to research. You may choose from a range of approaches and paradigms: what is important is that the research methods be appropriate to the questions being investigated.
The thesis should be of publishable quality. The course regulations state that it should make a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality. The work done for the thesis must not have been submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of any other degree.
If you are working in a team, or analysing previously collected data, the boundary of what is your personal contribution can become hard to define, but the central criterion is that you should be making a substantial independent contribution to the study.
Past theses are available for reference. Hard bound copies are kept in the Department; theses completed from 2011 are also available via UCL's e-thesis repository in UCL Discovery.
In order to guide you through the process of carrying out your major research project, several sessions have been organised within the project support subunit. These take place across the three years of the course, corresponding to various milestones in completing the project. They start with the project orientation session and project clinics in the first year, which are aimed at helping you find a suitable topic. Details are given in the Project Support subunit handbook.
Topic and setting
We encourage trainees to find projects within existing research groups led by course staff or staff in the wider Division of Psychology and Language Sciences or other local institutions. Potential supervisors may have a specific project to offer or will be able to help you develop one within their area of expertise. Given the limited amount of time available for the major research project, it is often difficult to carry out research on an independent topic of your choice.
All projects must have an internal supervisor who is a research-active member of the DClinPsy course team, so it is important that you discuss your ideas early on with any potential internal supervisors to make sure that they would be willing and able to supervise it. Course staff members’ research interests are given on their web pages.
Projects will normally be carried out within the London Region. Other than that, there is no restriction on the setting: it can be one of your placement settings if you prefer, though this is not necessary. If a research supervisor indicates that you need to be on placement with them in order to undertake the project, you must discuss this with a member of the clinical tutor team at the first opportunity. This is because placement planning is usually determined by clinical training need (so the “research” placement would need to fit into your overall training plan). In addition, other trainees (from this and other courses) may have a greater claim on the placement. On the whole, the tutor team will try to reconcile any problems, but can do this more effectively if the link between research and clinical placements is signalled at an early stage.
Although different projects vary in their demands, there is usually a common sequence of events that you need to consider in order to plan your time. The most frequent causes of problems are a slow initial start and unexpected delays later on, often out of your control (typically research governance procedures and recruitment of participants). Because of this, we recommend that you keep closely to the following timetable.
|Term 2||Decide on the topic, start reading the background literature, and formulate preliminary research questions. Approach potential internal and external supervisors.|
|Term 3||Statement of intent due (date to be notified).|
June to September
||Prepare the research proposal. Discuss the project in the setting in which you will carry it out. If necessary, apply for external funding, after discussion with your supervisor.|
|Beginning of term 1||Research proposal due (date to be notified).|
November to February
||Modify the proposal and finalise the research plan as necessary. Complete the data protection and departmental health and safety forms. Submit ethics application and project registration.|
February to September
||Begin recruitment of participants as soon as the protocol is finalised and research governance approvals are obtained. Begin data collection. Write the first draft of the literature review.|
|Term 1||Submit literature review to internal supervisor. Complete data collection and start data analysis.|
|Term 2||Complete the data analysis. Revise the literature review, write the empirical paper and draft the critical appraisal. Title and abstract due (for allocation of examiners: date to be notified).|
|April to May||Revise the empirical paper and the critical appraisal. Give the final draft of the whole thesis to your supervisors for comment.|
||Submit thesis (date to be notified).|
||Viva (dates to be announced).|
All projects require an internal supervisor, who must be a member of the DClinPsy course staff (in order to be familiar with the requirements for the thesis). Many projects also have an external supervisor, often an NHS clinical psychologist working in the setting where the project is being conducted.
Role of the supervisors
The role of the internal supervisor is to provide specialised academic research expertise, e.g. on the study's theoretical and empirical background, research methods, data analysis and writing up the thesis, and generally to ensure that the research meets the appropriate standards for the Doctorate. The role of the external supervisor is typically to advise on the practical feasibility of the study, assist with obtaining a sample, and provide clinical supervision.
The particular role each supervisor takes will vary from project to project, but you can expect one or other of your supervisors to suggest readings, help you plan and design your study, advise you on analysing the data and interpreting the findings and read at least one draft of the thesis (although work must be submitted in sufficient time – please do not ask your supervisor(s) to read a lot of material just before the due date!). It is advisable to meet with your supervisor(s) about every 3-4 weeks in the initial stages to set up the project; meetings will usually become less frequent as the project progresses (twice a term is the usual minimum). We do not have a formal research contract on this course, as we hesitate to introduce too much formality and regulation into what should be a flexible and mutually rewarding supervisory relationship. However, we do recommend that, at the start of the project, the supervisor and the trainee agree what each party’s main roles and responsibilities will be.
In addition to advice from your supervisors and the research staff, the course also provides specialist statistics advice, via a statistics demonstrator who has bookable time slots.
The course guidelines for internal supervisors and for external supervisors describe their respective supervisory roles. These are written for supervisors, but trainees might find them useful to consult.
Finding a supervisor
The project orientation session and the project clinics will help you in finding supervision for your potential project. It is essential that you discuss the ideas for the project with a member of the course team, and that they agree to be the internal supervisor, before you approach a potential external supervisor. (There is little point approaching an external supervisor about a project if there is no-one within the course team who is able to supervise it.) Many academic and NHS clinical psychologists, including most UCL academic staff members, are happy to supervise projects in their areas of interest, although there is naturally no guarantee that a person approached will be willing to supervise. Even if they are unable to supervise, they will usually offer advice and suggest other potential supervisors.
Normally, the external supervisor will be chosen on the grounds of having a clinical interest in the topic, being available to meet with you regularly over the course of the project, and possibly having conducted some research in the area. Sometimes external supervisors are active researchers and experts in their field. They will usually be a clinical psychologist, but could also be from another relevant discipline, such as psychiatry or sociology. There are no restrictions on institutional affiliation or location, though supervisors will normally be found within the Region.
The Research Directors are responsible for ensuring that every trainee has appropriate supervision in place and for monitoring the supervision loads of course staff. Should trainees experience any difficulties in finding an internal supervisor, the Research Directors will help to resolve these.
Keeping supervisors informed
In the early stages, when you are exploring potential projects, you may talk to several potential supervisors. In the past, we have had some complaints from supervisors saying that they have been treated casually by trainees, who have either seemed underprepared for meeting to discuss the project, or who have not been good about communicating their intentions after an initial meeting. Please only approach supervisors if you have done some background reading first, so that you know what the supervisor’s interests are and what the main literature is in the topic of interest. Also, it is vital to keep them in touch with your plans – especially if you decide to do your project with someone else.
Once the project is under way, you are responsible for keeping your supervisor(s) informed about its progress. In particular, if you are thinking of making any changes to the research protocol, you must first discuss this with your supervisors (and permission from the Ethics Committee may also be needed). This is especially important when ethical approval for the project has been given in your supervisor’s name.
Statement of intent
In term 3 of the first year, you will be asked to submit a “Statement of intent.” This is a one-page form that states the intended topic of your research, with the potential supervisor(s) and setting(s). The research directors will review them, but will contact you only if something seems problematical.
A proposal of approximately 2000 words is due early in term 1 of the Second Year (date to be announced). It needs to outline (1) the background to your topic, (2) your research questions or hypotheses, (3) the proposed research methods, (4) the institutional arrangements, eg, setting, NHS research supervisor and ethics committee, and financial implications (see the following section on expenses). The proposal will be reviewed by one of the academic staff who will give you written feedback on it. For further details, see the course document on preparing the proposal.
You will need to consider the costs of your project when you are putting together your proposal. As the course has limited funds, you may need to look into various sources of funding. If you plan ahead, you can apply to grant-giving bodies for support (although there is much competition for grants). You may also be able to obtain funds from the NHS Trust in which you are doing your research. See the course document on funding for the major research project for more details.
If you are applying for DClinPsy research funds, the research committee needs a written application in term 1 of year 2, in advance of the planned expenditure, outlining how much you are requesting and why. Note that projects costing more than £250 cannot normally be funded by the course, so you must ensure that alternative funding is available if your budget is likely to be over that amount.
If you will be paying research participants, you need to obtain in advance a Departmental “Subject receipt form”, which each participant will need to sign.
Research governance and ethics
The study must conform to the BPS code of ethics and conduct and the Department of Health’s Research Governance Framework.
As discussed in the research methods lectures, clinical psychology research almost always requires ethical approval. When the shape of the research is clear, submit your proposal to the Ethics Committee of the institution(s) in which the study will be carried out. It is important to do this early on, as several past projects have been seriously delayed by the process of gaining ethical approval. Ethics Committees may meet infrequently and there is a lot of paperwork, so you are advised to find out about their schedule of meetings well in advance.
The appendix to your thesis will need to include a copy of your official letter of approval from the Ethics Committee, as well as copies of the participant information sheet and consent form.
Health and safety issues
Personal safety issues are particularly important in clinical research, especially if you are planning to make home visits or to work with a potentially dangerous client group. All trainees must, together with their project supervisor, complete a Risk Identification and Management Form. It is your responsibility to familiarise yourself with the Departmental health and safety policies and to follow the guidelines in practice.
Discovering evidence of abuse or danger
It is possible that while seeing participants during your study, you become aware of an instance of abuse or potential danger, either to the participant or to others. Examples include child maltreatment, the abuse of older adults or of people in residential settings, and participants with active homicidal or suicidal intentions. In this situation, you must consult immediately with your research supervisor. You have a duty of care that obliges you to break confidentiality if not to do so would result in harm, or further harm, to the participant or to others (see the BPS code of ethics and conduct).
Monitoring research progress
The research directors are responsible for having an overview of the progress of all trainees’ projects and for giving general advice (although your internal supervisor should be the first port of call). You will be asked to complete regular progress reports in the Second and Third Years, in order for the research directors to monitor how things are going. Should any serious problems arise with the project at any point, you should let the research directors know and they will try to help sort these out.
We recommend that you keep a private research journal throughout the duration of the project. You can use this to note down ideas and thoughts about conceptual or methodological issues, decisions you make, observations and reflections about the data you are collecting, etc. This provides very useful material to draw upon when you come to write part 3 of the thesis, the critical appraisal. It is also essential for qualitative research, in which reflexivity and awareness of the influence of the researcher on the research process needs to be documented.
Writing up the project
The major research project forms Volume 1 of your thesis; Volume 2 contains four case reports and the service-related research report. Details on the format of the thesis, and guidelines for writing up and final presentation, are given in the course document on writing and presenting the thesis.
Marking and viva
All theses will be assessed by two examiners, one external and one internal. Candidates will be examined by an oral examination (viva voce) in September of the third year (the date will be finalised several months in advance). The viva gives you a chance to defend your work and to explain some of the conceptual and methodological choices you made and the conclusions you reached.
The potential outcomes of the examination are: (1) pass; (2) pass conditional on minor corrections (one month); (3) referred for stipulated revisions (three months); (4) referred for major revisions (one year); and (5) fail (see the criteria for evaluating the thesis). Most trainees are usually asked to make some corrections to their thesis, so it is better to resist the temptation to plan a holiday immediately after the viva!
If you have survived all the above, and still can bear to think about research, course staff will be happy to help you think about disseminating and publishing your project and also about how to continue doing research in your future career. We encourage all trainees to publish their studies. It is relatively little effort in comparison with the work involved in producing your thesis, and your supervisors will usually collaborate with you to produce a publishable paper. It’s usually very rewarding to see your work in print.