Nearly all of the faculty members at the Department of Psychology have active research programs, and our undergraduate students are strongly encouraged to participate in ongoing research. Working as a research assistant provides hands-on opportunities to learn about research methods, see how the knowledge in your textbooks was generated, build skills in scientific programming, data analysis, and science communication, and develop close mentorship relationships with professors and doctoral students. Working in a lab might also:
● Help you develop your academic and research interests
● Identify potential future academic and professional opportunities
● Improve future graduate school applications (research experience is often expected)
● Help you develop specialized research skills (e.g., eye-tracking, fMRI, computational modeling)
● Provide opportunities to collaborate with other students
● Provide an opportunity to develop a close mentorship relationship with a faculty member, which is a great way to get advice on your educational and professional goals, and can lead to letters of recommendation--an important part of graduate school applications.
When to get involved in research
It is a good idea to get involved in research as early in your undergraduate career as possible! Many labs are enthusiastic to take first- or second- year students, because students who find a good fit with a lab can continue on for multiple semesters and make a more lasting contribution to the lab. Other labs look for students to have had certain coursework before being ready to contribute to the lab as an RA, and thus might be better suited for more advanced students. If you are interested in one of these labs and contact them early, you can learn about those requirements and make plans accordingly. Also, getting involved in research early might give you the opportunity to gain experience in more than one lab, which can help you develop more skills and further refine your interests. If you aim to complete an Honors Thesis or apply for a grant to do a more independent project in a lab, such as through the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund, it is also a good idea to start in a lab early, as many labs expect students to have worked as a research assistant in the lab for a certain amount of time before pursuing these opportunities.
How to identify a research mentor
There are several possible ways to find a research laboratory to join.
● Look through the List of Faculty Labs. Most lab websites include information about current projects and recent papers, so you can get a sense of the research being conducted in the lab and how it fits with your interests and goals.
● Visit the office hours of a professor whose course you are taking to discuss your interests and get their recommendations about which labs in the department might be a good fit for you.
How to contact a potential research mentor
There are several ways to contact a potential research mentor.
● Many labs have links on their lab websites to apply directly to the lab; if you see an online application, that is the best approach to use for that lab.
● If you cannot find an online application on a lab website, you can email the professor directly (unless their website has a note to email a lab manager or designated graduate student instead; a lab manager is usually a full-time lab employee whose job it is to coordinate lab activities, often this person is someone who is a recently-graduated psychology major looking to get more research experience before applying to graduate school).
When emailing a professor, graduate student, or lab manager to ask about a possible research position:
● Explain who you are (e.g., that you are a third-year psychology major, etc.)
● Explain what interests you about their research
● Explain how you will be an asset to the lab (e.g., courses you have taken, programming experience, other practical skills)
● Explain how this experience will help you as you develop your career path
● Provide a resume with examples of leadership, self-motivation, and dedication to work tasks
● Ask to schedule a time to meet to discuss a position or further options
When meeting with a professor, graduate student, or lab manager to discuss a possible research position:
▪ Treat it as if it were a professional job interview
▪ Do research on the lab (e.g., by reading articles on the lab website) and be ready to discuss why you are interested in the lab in particular
▪ Be clear about your availability and how much time you have to devote to research
▪ Be prepared to ask questions! These could include:
▪ What will my role in the lab be?
▪ What types of skills could I acquire in the lab?
▪ How many semesters or years do research assistants often stay in the lab? Is there a minimum expectation?
▪ Who would serve as my primary mentor and supervisor? How frequently will I be expected or able to meet with them?
▪ Am I expected or invited to attend lab meetings?
▪ How many undergraduate research assistants work in the lab at a time? Will I work mostly on my own or as part of a team?
▪ What type of schedule is expected? How many hours a week will I contribute, and how much of that time will be in-person vs. remote?
▪ What kind of training is provided?
▪ Could you tell me more about the lab’s current research projects?
▪ I had a question/idea about one of the lab’s papers that I read….
▪ (If you are interested) Are research assistants in the lab expected/encouraged/allowed to write DURF applications?
▪ (If you are interested) Does the lab take on students to complete honors theses? What is the process like for accepting students for this program?
▪ (If you are interested) Does the lab support applications for students to receive academic credit for their research experience? (see more about these options below)
▪ (If you are speaking to a lab manager/graduate student, and are interested), How much will I get to know Dr. X (the professor who runs the lab)? Assuming my work in the lab goes well, is it reasonable to expect that I would get to know Dr. X well enough to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school?
▪ (If the person you are speaking with has suggested that you might not be the right fit at this time) What courses could I take to help me become better prepared to work in this lab?
Receiving Academic Course Credit for Research Experience in Labs
There are several ways to receive academic course credit for working as a research assistant in a lab in the psychology department. Note that a student can take up to 12 credits of internship/supervised reading credits (covering both Research Experience in psychology and Supervised Reading in Psychology), and no more of 8 of these can be in one department.
Research Experience in Psychology is a two-credit, graded course that you can register for to receive academic credit for your work as a research assistant in a lab. When you are meeting with the faculty member (or lab manager or graduate student) to discuss your research position, let them know that you are interested in this option. Together with your primary mentor in the lab, you’ll need to fill out and submit a brief application (available by emailing: email@example.com), which describes your educational goals, responsibilities, and scheduling requirements for the position. Once your application is approved, you’ll be able to register for the class. At the end of the semester, the professor running the lab will submit a grade for your work at the end of the term. Generally, students registered for this course should expect to complete about 8 hours per week in the lab, perhaps in addition to attending lab or project meetings, but check with each lab for specific expectations. The credits received for this course do not fulfill the formal laboratory requirement that is part of psychology major or count towards the total required credits for the psychology major or minor.
Supervised Reading in Psychology is a course that covers a variety of internships that psychology majors may choose to complete to advance their educational and professional goals as psychology students, including internships as research assistants in faculty labs. The process and requirements are very similar to Research Experience in Psychology, and a similar application must be completed. This course can be registered for between 2-4 credits per semester, depending on how much time will be devoted to the research internship (to discuss how many credits are appropriate, please email firstname.lastname@example.org). The credits received for this course do not fulfill the formal laboratory requirement that is part of the psychology major, but do count as an Advanced Elective towards the psychology major or minor.
Honors Program in Psychology. The Honors Program gives Psychology majors the opportunity to engage in closely supervised--yet independent--research and scholarship; prepares them for graduate-level work in psychology or related professional fields such as business, law, or medicine; and provides them with experiences and skills that may help them attain their career objectives. Students apply for admission to the Honors Program in their sophomore or junior year, with occasional exceptions for late-transfer students.
Grants to Support Undergraduate Research
Once you are working in a departmental lab, you might be able to work with the professor or an advanced doctoral student or postdoctoral fellow to develop an application for funding! This can increase your access to new research projects and provides opportunities for great experiences and accomplishments to list on your resume or CV.
The Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund (DURF) accepts applications 2 times per year to support student research and conference travel. The DURF considers all undergraduate research assistants who submit an abstract and rationale for funding research costs up to $1000.
The NYU Wasserman center provides an opportunity every semester for current NYU undergraduates working in an unpaid internship position to apply for a $1000 Wasserman Internship Grant.
Other opportunities for undergraduate research are available via PsiChi (the undergraduate Psychology honor society).
Paid Internship Opportunities
The psychology department views interning in psychology labs as part of undergraduate academic training and therefore the primary means of supporting this work is via academic credit, as described above. Yet, some faculty labs are able to offer paid research internship opportunities, as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program, via programs supported by the National Institutes of Health to increase diversity in the scientific workforce, or other research funding agencies. Some labs offer a limited number of paid internship positions throughout the year and some do so only over the summer. Active paid internship positions in the department will be listed below.