Psychology student’s experience as a dog therapy research assistant

A student selfie

As someone who has enjoyed the challenge of learning to do research incorporating statistics within my psychology degree, I was thrilled when one of my lecturers, Dr Shubha Sreenivas, distributed a voluntary position for a research assistant.


Whilst I saw this as a great opportunity to perhaps improve my research skills and understanding of statistics, I initially anticipated that my fellow research assistants and I would blindly follow Shubha around, obeying her every command, without needing to apply much thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong.


Our first data collection day consisted of Shubha providing an overview of what she envisioned, and then myself and my four other wonderful research assistants desperately trying to arrange the room and herd our participants in the direction of some therapy dogs. Shubha did, of course, oversee the entire day, and provided guidance when it was needed, however the freedom that she gave us to make mistakes and learn from them at each data collection day has proven to be invaluable learning.


The data collection days involved organising the therapy dogs into sections of the room, engaging with participants to confirm their consent to participate, and assist them with gaining access to our online survey. Prior to the data collection days, myself and the other research assistants had assembled the online survey using the standardised stress scales that Shubha had selected for inclusion. This was a brilliant opportunity as I will be beginning my dissertation in September, and having the experience of putting an online survey together will be a huge help.


After completing the survey, our participants were directed to a therapy dog for a period of 20 minutes in which the participants were encouraged to play and engage with the dogs and (hopefully) de-stress from student life. The dogs and handlers were brilliant, and a highlight of each data collection day was certainly getting to pet the dogs! After the 20-minute period, participants were asked to complete part two of the online survey, which concluded their participation.


We are currently in the process of analysing this data, and writing up the research report, all of which is being conducted by the research assistants, with Shubha’s supervision and guidance. The skills I have already improved due to this experience include communication skills, problem solving, and teamwork, an. d I expect these skills, and more, will continue to develop. I am thoroughly enjoying being a psychology research assistant and would recommend this experience to anyone if the opportunity arises. I’d like to thank Dr Shubha Sreenivas, and Kirsty Le-Cheminant for the opportunity, and my fellow researchers Emma A, Emma T, Phoebe, and Bob for being so brilliant! 


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