On the uneasy role of a scientist and the 'Experior' Research Club. Interview with dr Paweł Atroszko

Members of the 'Experior' Psychological Research Club.

They study behavioural addictions, personality psychology, mindfulness topics, and the psychology of the internet and education. So far, they have received over 100 scholarships, awards and prizes, and there are still more to come. We are talking about psychology students from the Psychological Research Club 'Experior' operating at the Institute of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Gdańsk. We talk about their achievements and the direction of their research with the Club's supervisor, dr Paweł Atroszko.

The Psychology Research Club 'Experior', created in 2015 at the initiative of the students themselves, is running at full steam, as evidenced by the successes achieved so far. It involves more than 30 students of the UG Institute of Psychology in research and projects.

Yes, the club was founded six years ago by eight highly motivated second-year psychology students. At that time I was appointed a mentor, and Artur Sawicki became the first chairman. The aim of the club was to focus its activities on acquiring and developing knowledge and skills related to conducting research in the field of psychology. Our first activities were related to large international studies conducted in cooperation with, among others, the Department of Psychology at the University of Bergen - we studied the relationship between work addiction and genes, as well as the relationship between learning addiction and work addiction, their determinants and consequences. In addition, we have carried out smaller projects mainly on the topic of behavioural addictions.

Can students belonging to the club participate independently, regardless of their year of study, in major research projects and gain practical experience of this?

Already during their studies, members of the club are employed on large research grants. Students also work in the organizing committees of national and international scientific conferences. They have also prepared and submitted projects in competitions held by the National Bureau for Drug Prevention and the Ministry of Education. So, as you can see, we try to involve them in various activities within ambitious projects with the assumption that their participation in the process of organising and carrying out research, including carrying out certain basic tasks that are within their competence, will allow for optimal development of students' research awareness. This awareness includes both the knowledge of the demands made by the implementation of research projects in the field of psychology, as well as the many barriers to the implementation of specific research steps. Above all, however, involvement in specific tasks allowed for the development of what in psychology is called a sense of self-efficacy, i.e. the conviction that one can perform certain tasks and the satisfaction associated with this. Moreover, carrying out these tasks allowed one to feel that one was part of something bigger and important. On the other hand, it is inherent in action to make mistakes. Thus, the students were able to confront situations where things do not always turn out as planned.

These are quite uncomfortable situations, showing how we deal with stress and difficult emotions. And at the same time a great life lesson.

Since its beginnings, an important aspect of the club has been its attention to precisely dealing with the difficult emotions and stress, associated with challenges and setbacks, that are inherent in any work, including research. This is important because the cultural image of a scientist can sometimes give the impression that it is an emotionless, purely objective activity. In fact, emotions are inextricably linked to the research process, and the matter is complicated by the fact that, in theory, science assumes objectivity. The process is full of both positive emotions associated with discoveries, with research advances, with growing knowledge and competence and success, and also - probably to a greater extent - with failures, lack of expected results, difficulties in implementing research, practical and institutional barriers, fears and uncertainties. Without adequate attention, emotions can significantly affect the research process itself; above all, difficult emotions can often discourage further work in this area. Probably a significant role in the process of coping and regulating emotions in the club is played by regular meetings both related to the current activities of the club and integration meetings (at this time, due to restrictions, they do not take place). An important factor in this context seems to be the creation of an atmosphere of openness and acceptance, which allows for good communication of needs, expectations, difficulties, but also positive experiences.

What other skills, in the context of carrying out scientific activities in the broadest sense of the word, do club members acquire?

There are many of them. Students are involved in every stage of the scientific process, including the further stage of presenting their research findings at scientific conferences and in publications. Public speaking is difficult for many people, especially novice scientists, who are often panicky about harsh evaluation and criticism from audiences. Here is one important area to work on emotions and prepare students for their first conference presentations. In 5 years of activity, these efforts have resulted in more than 60 presentations at international and national scientific conferences, including numerous prizes and awards for the best presentations. It is worth mentioning that students from the club also participate in the process of writing a scientific publication, which involves other challenges, both related to their work and coordination and communication in working with others. Above all, a clear structure for the work and adequate attention to optimal communication helps to minimise the stress involved in preparing a manuscript. Thanks to the procedures developed in the Club, the students have so far prepared 36 scientific publications, including (in the last 2 years) 11 from the list of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and 4 with an Impact Factor of over 10 (which in the social sciences is a great achievement, especially at this - student - stage of the scientific career).

Dr. P. Atroszko

Dr Paweł Atroszko, supervisor of the 'Experior' Psychological Research Club. Photo: Arek Smykowski/UG

You mentioned that members of the club can participate in research stays at prestigious foreign research institutions. This must be a very valuable experience for such young people.

Yes, this was another step in the development of young scientists' research activities. In 2018, four students from the club had their first internship at the University of Bergen, which is one of the most important centres for behavioural addictions in the world. They were involved in a large international project on studying learning and work addiction, which was conducted under the supervision of prof. S. Pallesen. During their stay, the students prepared manuscripts of scientific articles, some of which are already published. The stay allowed for further development of cooperation with the centre, but above all, it allowed the students to participate in the functioning of a renowned foreign research unit. The students were able to learn directly about the organisation of work in such a unit, experiencing their proactivity and increased sense of self-efficacy. This type of trip is a stressful experience to some extent, but I think that above all it allows you to learn a lot. Stays in renowned foreign scientific institutions are one of the important and valued elements of scientific achievements by scientific institutions in Poland and an important step in the development of a young scientist.

You study behavioural addictions, personality psychology, mindfulness topics, internet psychology, the psychology of education. Please tell us a little more about the subject matter of the research activities you undertake.

In the early days of the club, many conference presentations and publications dealt with the themes of cynical hostility and trust in an educational context. Also nowadays, many of our projects deal with psychological issues that are related to working well together and functioning in society. These topics include narcissism, which is an important factor that negatively affects social functioning, or behavioural addictions, which often result from various forms of social exclusion. Over time, the Club has begun to increase the scope of its activities. Its members began to carry out their research under the grants they received. In 2017, Artur Sawicki received a prestigious Diamond Grant, which involved students in extremely interesting and developing projects, including training in the identification of emotional facial expression based on procedures developed by Prof. P. Ekman. In 2018, Piotr Bereznowski also received a Diamond Grant taking up the topic of network analysis in relation to learning and work addiction. Network analysis is based on advanced statistical methods and Piotr is one of the pioneers of using this method in psychological research in Poland. He cooperates with Prof. R. Konarski, one of the most prominent statisticians in Poland. At the same time, students from the Club were involved in other research projects at the Institute of Psychology UG, as well as at other scientific institutions. Wiktor Wróbel has conducted extremely ambitious, large-scale research into the psychological functioning of secondary school students in the Metropolitan Area Gdańsk, Gdynia, Sopot. The practical results of the project included detailed reports for schools on the functioning of their students. Thus, the range of social initiatives of the Club gradually increased, reaching a wider audience with the results of its research, including public institutions and organisations dealing with, among others, counteracting addictions.

'Experior' can boast a number of awards. In February this year, three students from the club received a scholarship from the Minister of Education and Science for significant scientific, artistic or sporting achievements for the 2020/2021 academic year.

Yes, three of the seven students from UG who received this scholarship are members of the Psychological Research Club 'Experior': Stanisław Konrad Czerwiński, Weronika Maria Mytlewska, Aleksandra Uzarska. They constitute nearly 20% of all awarded students of psychology in Poland. Our successes can be summarised as follows: the club has received more than 100 scholarships, awards or distinctions, including several Scholarships from the Minister of Science and Higher Education and now the Minister of Education and Science. In 2018, the club also received the first prize in the category 'Scientific Club of the Year' in the 'StRuNa' competition organised by the Student Scientific Movement. In this competition, the club's supervisor was twice awarded in the 'Scientific Supervisor of the Year' category (2017 and 2020). These and our other achievements are only objective indicators of something more important, namely that these assumptions have resulted in a very dynamic development of young people leading to the preparation of high-quality specialists in their field.

Dr Pawel Atroszko was interviewed by Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska

Zespół Prasowy UG