Important lessons and tips

The Psychologist’s Companion for Undergraduates by Robert Sternberg & Karin Sternberg (Cambridge University Press; Pb £27.99).

09 August 2017

Robert Sternberg is the Andrew Carnegie of psychology. Through many books and articles he gives away his wealth of experience and knowledge for the benefit of the skills and careers of less experienced psychologists. In six editions of The Psychologist’s Companion, he and fellow psychologist Karin Sternberg (a married couple) share lessons on planning and communicating psychological science skilfully, in every medium. The Psychologist’s Companion for Undergraduates simplifies and tailors these lessons.

It shares the structure of the original, but is 20 per cent shorter. The Sternbergs give guidance for assignments and also focus on journal publication throughout. I liked this because – as I try to convey to my own students – student work and professional writing draw on the same skills, just at different levels of development. The book reinforces the idea that the students of today will develop into the researchers and journal authors of tomorrow – reflecting a Dweck-style mastery orientation.

Being an American book, it uses the term ‘paper’ to cover all types of writings. Seven chapters cover basic principles and planning a piece of writing, then four more on effective writing style, APA format and presenting data. Two chapters focus on writing for publication, and one each on oral and poster presentations. Especially useful are chapters on finding ideas for projects, writing a literature review, proofreading and editing, and oral and poster presentations. However all the chapters are valuable, with important lessons and tips; many have useful checklists. I love the anecdotes from the authors about their own mistakes; these show that successful psychologists have learned from failures the hard way – success means making mistakes and learning from them, not instant perfection!

Titling the book ‘for undergraduates’ seems unfortunate; the book would benefit senior undergraduates, postgraduate conversion course students and those taking an MSc or MRes, maybe even a PhD (although the original is targeted to PhD students and professionals). Overall I think a strong addition to reading lists for research methods, practical projects and dissertations.

- Reviewed by Dr Francis Quinn, Lecturer in Psychology, Robert Gordon University