One great way to understand more about the field of Psychology is by reading the American Psychological Association’s magazine the Monitor on Psychology (http://www.apa.org/monitor/). It’s not a peer-review academic journal. It’s a magazine that offers interesting short reports about recent research, musings by psychology professors from across the country, conference and award announcements, and interviews with psychology professionals inside and outside of academia. Check it out at… http://www.apa.org/monitor/.
The world of research can be scary if you don’t know how to navigate the many fields and labs. But luckily a few tips can really demystify the process!
1. To get involved you may want to check out some resources that describe the different areas of research. One example was posted earlier on this blog, check it out here. Each lab at your university will have a different focus. Think of some different areas of research that have intrigued you in your undergrad classes. Does memory research fascinate you? Maybe you prefer understanding how kids learn math. After this reflection, you can then access your school’s psychology department website.
2. From the psychology website, there are usually descriptions about what kind of research each professor does. From these “faculty directories” you can often find links to their websites. Look at a few papers from each of the professors you are interested in working with. Do you understand what they were studying? Can you see yourself helping conduct these studies?
3. Also on these websites, you can often find a tab that says something like “Getting Involved,” similar to this website! Many labs will require that you fill out an application and email it to either the professor or the lab manager. They will also list any requirements (GPA, courses taken) that you need to help out in the lab. Look at these resources to be sure you’re a good fit!
4. Finally, if you think you’re a good fit, you’re interested and you know how to talk about the research, then you can email the professor. This is often a good way to see if the lab has room for undergraduate research assistants.
5. Many schools will offer academic credits for research experience. Some labs may be able to pay you! However, expect to devote about 6-10 hours per week on your research tasks. It is a major commitment, so be sure you’re ready!
6. Once you get involved, you will often be helping prepare stimuli, recruiting subjects, and collecting and entering data. If you start when you’re early in your academic career, you may get the opportunity to do a more independent project. If you are that fortunate, I would encourage you to take advantage of the many undergraduate research conferences across the nation. Many schools will have small symposia for their own students. However, others have conferences that represent a number of different campuses and universities. For an example, see UCLA’s Psychology Undergraduate Research conference, PURC.
As a last bit of advice, it is never too late to get started in research. Sure, the earlier you get started, the longer you get to work with the director of the lab, and he or she can serve as a recommendation for you. However, many labs are willing to take more senior students who have had more coursework in psychology.
One of the best ways to prepare yourself to be a strong applicant is to gain research experience. It’s really never too early or too late to get started in research! For some great tips on how to get involved, see here and here. Being a full-time research assistant or volunteering in a psych lab provides an excellent opportunity to gain valuable skills, explore your interests, and learn more about the process of conducting research. Remember to think outside the box – even tasks like data entry can get you involved and thinking about critical research questions. Completing a senior thesis can be a particularly meaningful way to gain research experience. This kind of independent project allows you the exciting chance to take part in the research process from start to finish and typically involves close mentorship with a faculty member. In addition, try to develop connections in the lab in which you work. Many scientists are incredibly passionate about their work and are eager to share it with developing psychologists like you!
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