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Getting Undergraduate Research Experience
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why should I consider joining a research lab or team?
There are many great benefits to working in a research lab. Although you’ll get some different experiences depending on what lab you join, there are overall some general benefits you will gain. You’ll be exposed to reading and possibly contributing to research articles, and therefore become more “research literate” and be able to meaningfully critique bodies of research literature. You will also have the opportunity to see and be involved in the research process from beginning to end – something hard to fully grasp from just reading about it. Many students also find these experiences help clarify their own research interests. That is, the areas of research they may like to study in the future, especially if they want to go to graduate school in psychology. Similarly, you will receive mentorship from a faculty member which is very helpful not only in doing well now, but also if you plan to apply for graduate school. You will be able to document your research experiences on your curriculum vitae (CV; a more in-depth resume of all of your experiences). You also have the option of enrolling in course credit (PSY 499 – Independent Study and Research) for your research experience. Many graduate programs require letters of recommendation, and participating in research and establishing a relationship with a faculty member is essential to getting a letter of recommendation.
When is a good time to join a research lab?
As early as possible! Some faculty members prefer students to be further along in school (sophomore or junior year, or with a basic statistics course taken) prior to joining, but other faculty are happy to bring on and begin mentoring students in their first year. The earlier you can get involved, the better, because the more opportunities you will have to develop your career interests and solidify your plans for the future.
How do I join a lab?
The best way to join a lab is reach out to a faculty member whose research you might be interested in. You can directly contact them through email, or go meet with them in person. It might also be helpful to ask a faculty member whose class you are currently taking if they have any openings in their research lab. Some faculty only accept new students to start in their labs at the start of semesters, and others take students on a rolling or as-needed basis. When you email or talk to a faculty member, be sure to specifically point out reasons why you want to join their lab in particular. It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with some of their research and know what types of work they do. Also, be sure to communicate in a professional manner with faculty through email.
What qualifications do faculty look for?
Most faculty are more interested in professionalism, conscientiousness, and an eagerness to learn above prior experience. Being on a team can require a lot of work, independently and in groups, so it’s important that you can commit to the responsibilities asked of you. An ability to work efficiently and ask for help when you don’t know are also generally highly valued. Many faculty appreciate students who can strike a balance between cultivating their own interests, offering their perspectives, and being willing to learn a lot. Aside from these general qualifications, ask faculty you’re interested in working with what they look for or require.
How do I decide what faculty to pursue working with?
Maybe you’ve taken a class from a professor you really like – go up to them and personally ask about research assistant opportunities. If you hadn’t had direct contact with many professors in a way which would inform you of their work, browse the Faculty Areas of Interest page on the GVSU Psychology Website and click the faculty whose research you might be interested in for more detailed information. Often they will have additional information on their past projects, current projects, and their contact information. You can either email the professor directly or go to their office hours. Again, it shows initiative and eagerness to reach out to faculty directly and ask them about opportunities.