I hope I have found the right website for my query. Would it be possible to get a psychological experiment that you carried out published to any journal, despite the fact that you are:

  1. Only 17 (nearly 18) years old
  2. Have no degree or qualification

I've got some really great ideas for psychological experiments that I haven't been able to find them done yet. I really just want to do science and get recognised for it. I was thinking Google Science fair, but that has ended. I'm just doing this for self-pursuit and interest. I am hoping exposure to a scientific audience can lead me to my future career path.

  • 16
    For experimental psychology (and other life/social sciences) you also have to be aware that many journals require some declaration that your experiments are conducted ethically. (See e.g. the "Ethical Principles" section of the Journal of Experimental Psychology.) Things like "informed consent" can be tricky for a first timer, and I would really recommend finding a research psychologist to supervise you. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 10:35
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    "Can a hypothetical, extremely gifted and improbably well-informed student publish?" is a valid question. However, it's worth reflecting on how realistic this is. Science is not just about making an experiment that sounds clever. What long standing gaps in research does your experiment address? What previous research has been done? How is yours superior to it? Did you have appropriate controls and statistical analysis? What are the theoretical and practical implications of your results? I am a little skeptical that a 17 year old could really answer these (though it's certainly not impossible).
    – Superbest
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 6:53

4 Answers 4


There are two different types of "no qualifications":

  1. A person may be "unqualified" because they don't have the usual pieces of paper
  2. A person may be "unqualified" because they are not familiar with the standards and practices of the field.

Don't worry about the first one. Worry about the second one. For example, one of the other comments raised the issue of getting human subject experiments approved. Likewise, there are lots of subtle challenges in experimental design that have to be dealt with in order to getting a valid psychological result. But high school students and undergraduates do real scientific work all the time. Consider, for example, the iGEM genetic engineering competition: students from around the world, both high school and undergraduate, get right out to the bleeding edge of science, and some of their work goes on to be published. Or consider the Hackerspace/DIY movement, which is bubbling over with innovation and certainly knows no age barriers.

Now, what most of those folks have, and what it sounds like you don't currently, is mentors who know the ropes. A good mentor might or might not be "qualified" in the sense of pieces of paper, but should have a good sense of the scientific method, and at least some ideas of who else to get involved if you start thinking you've got a unique result and want to figure out how to get from awesome science on the internet to a formal publication.

Don't worry about the uniqueness or publication part of it too much. First, find some good peers and a mentor if you can, and just start doing some science. Then see if you actually enjoy the thrill of the knowledge chase enough to overcome the frustrations of experiments that don't work and people who point out the problems in the ideas you have come to love. If you fall in love, not just with the idea of science, but with the process, then as time goes by you can sort out which of the many science-related career paths ends up being a good one for you to pursue.

Maybe you'll end up published before you turn 20, and maybe you won't. If that makes a big difference to you, then you're in it for the wrong reasons.

  • 1
    Good answer, and I also want to emphasize the point of approaching researchers working in the field as collaborators and mentors. They can help you with an overview of the field, they know the litterature, and will be able to spot trivial mistakes and omissions, which could take you a long time to discover. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 7:20

You don't need any formal qualifications to get an article published. You don't have to have degrees or titles or money or anything. What you have to do is make an original, important contribution to the sum total of human knowledge.

I don't want to offend you here, but you need to be realistic. The chances that you are going to make such a contribution at 17 or 18 is virtually nil. You haven't seen anybody else suggest such experiments, but how much literature have you actually read? How many monographs, how many research articles? The reason that it is pretty much only people with PhDs who publish research is not that there's some big conspiracy. It can take as many as 5-10 years of dedicated, carefully directed effort, involving lots of mentors and help along the way to get a person to the point that they can start making such contributions.

Don't be discouraged in your desire to do research. But recognize that you've got a long road of learning the field, and internalizing the norms and practices of the discipline before you're realistically going to get a piece of original research published. It really is that hard, but that's also why it's so special and valuable. Stay hungry.

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    Great answer, although I wish to highlight that plenty of people publish as undergraduates, with only 4 years or so of directed effort in general. EDIT: Although, I suppose if you want to publish INDEPENDENTLY, most people would indeed need 10 or so years of training to do so well.
    – Behacad
    Commented Oct 23, 2014 at 23:55
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    I would also add that you can't just start doing psychological experiments. Journals won't publish research that has not been approved by an institutional review board (IRB).
    – IS Prof
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 0:01
  • 7
    15-20 years? Much less actually. If you only get to publish after 15 years in academia, something may be wrong.
    – Gimelist
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 7:47
  • 4
    What you have to do is make an original, important contribution to the sum total of human knowledge My God, if only that were true... You can publish practically anything...
    – Cape Code
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 13:33
  • 1
    @CapeCode Granted, if you don't care whether anybody ever reads it, or what other people in the profession will eventually think of you when they see where you've published, sure you can get a bunch of trash work published. I think OP wants to get the kind of publication that actually makes a difference and gets read and cited. You can't get practically anything published that way.
    – user10636
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 16:55

Yes, it's possible if uncommon. I did it, learned a ton, and had a blast. The byline in the journal just unceremoniously lists my affiliation as my high school. It's actually pretty funny. But the others' answers are spot-on; you have to put in a lot of background reading in the field. This is much easier when you have a mentor in the field to guide you, but I didn't have one. If you can, talk to someone with a good brain for research and study design even if they're not in psychology, and ask for their help with the idiosyncrasies of preparing a manuscript for submission.

Don't have wild expectations, but go for it. It's pretty damn fun to do independent research. And psychology is not a bad choice: the literature is accessible to a layperson, and if you're clever, you can do a psych study on a shoestring.

Good luck!

  • 6
    A note on collaboration. Many young researchers are scared of collaborative research because the other person will "steal their ideas" or "take some of the credit". Do not worry about this: it is much better to publish a good paper with a co-author than a mediocre paper without. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 12:35
  • @DavidRicherby, yes!
    – half-pass
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 15:26

Ignore the doubters.

Do the goddamn experiments and keep a METICULOUS log of your activity, practice, procedures etc. Videos, transcripts, audios, pictures, notes, EVERYTHING.

Most of the greatest minds in our history all came from little to no educational background, (or completely different fields)

People forget that science isn't about a degree, it's about curiosity.

Go do it my man.

It's true, it might be easier if you can have a patron or mentor but don't let that stop you from starting. You can do both at the same time. Send a respectful letter or phone the Professor and say something along the lines of:

"Hi, My names John, I'm doing some cool research about xyz, I thought you'd be intereted because

I'm running my xth wave of experiments (never say it's your first or second) at the moments and it's due to finish on the xth.

I'm telling you this because it would be great to have another perspective/opinion/insight about the results. Already there are some amazing trends beginning to show."

Be confident and display certainty in your communications.

Don't get too caught up in the pomposity of academia. Respect it, but don't aspire to it, keep things simple man.

FYI. I read and use various reports, and papers all the time in my occupation, and most of it could be said with about 60% less verbage. It's disgraceful that the most 'educated' minds require so many words, they are nearly as bad as lawyers, (which use these massive amounts of words to sneak their own interpretation into)

Toasting to your success my friend.

  • 1
    On what basis do you make the statement: "the greatest minds in our history all came from little to no educational background"? I think this is misleading.
    – dionys
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 21:19

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