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Conducting Research

Vanderbilt provides unparalled opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in research. Our faculty, research fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students are involved in fascinating research that is defining—and redefining—our understanding of the human mind. Research ranges from simple tests of perception to highly technical brain imaging studies.

We strongly encourage psychology majors to gain research experience by working directly with faculty in the department, both for pedagogical training and to gain valuable research experience that will be extremely valuable to those considering graduate school.

If you are interested in conducting research in the Department of Psychology, contact the faculty member directly, apply to the Honors Program, or enroll in PSY 3840: Directed Study. Remember that research can also count towards your Immersion experience.

Most professors ask for a year-long commitment from a Research Assistant (RA), as training RAs takes time. Less often, one-semester arrangements can be made. Most RAs receive course credit (by enrolling in PSY 3840: Directed Study) for their lab work. Some paid positions are available, but working in a lab for credit is more typical.

If you are interested in participating as a subject in a research study, learn more about the guidelines.

Finding a Lab

The first step is to find a lab in which you’re interested in working. Lab needs fluctuate frequently, but most faculty have active labs with undergraduate RAs.

To find the right match between your interests and the available research options, we recommend that you:

  1. Determine which faculty members conduct research in the area in which you are most interested. Read about our faculty and make a short list of four or five that conduct research of interest to you. Remember, you need not have relevant skills or coursework to join, just an interest in the topic of investigation.
  2. Contact the first person on your list by writing a short email. Be sure the email includes the following:
  • Your name, expected year of graduation, and major(s)/minor(s);
  • What type of research experience you are looking for;
  • Course credit earned from PSY 3840, NSC 3861, or volunteering without credit;
  • Which term you are interested in joining;
  • Why you have chosen this faculty member;
  • Something about their research that interests you;
  • Any relevant experience you might have;
  • Any other relevant skills you have, such as programming or data analysis.

Remember to keep this email brief–about one paragraph. Faculty are unlikely to read something that is longer than a page.

  1. It can take faculty one to two weeks to respond to such a query, especially at the beginning of the term.
  2. Go to the next name on your list. There are several reasons why a faculty member may not be able to allow you to join their lab. Perhaps they already have a full lab, are on leave this term, they only take students with programming experience, or maybe they do not do that type of research anymore. Go through the names on your short list, in order, so that you are targeting one lab at a time. This whole process can take a few weeks.

If you are interested in pursuing research in psychology as a part of your Immersion experience, contact Ashleigh Maxcey, senior lecturer of psychology, who can assist in defining your Immersion project.

PSY 3840: Directed Study

Once you find a lab, you can sign up for PSY 3840: Directed Study, unless your position is paid. You cannot receive course credit if you are also being paid by the lab.

Registering for Directed Study

You can’t sign up for PSY 3840 via YES, rather you must request registration by completing an ‘independent study form’ as described in the ‘Individual Study User Guide’ which can be downloaded from this page. After the form is processed, Directed Study students are added to a Common Course on Brightspace which is where they are directed to complete their RCR training and submit their final papers.

Note that you can sign up for PSY 3840 for one, two, or three credit hours. Be sure to discuss this explicitly with the faculty member in whose lab you’ll be working. Most students take Directed Study for three credit hours, which equates to approximately 10 hours per week of lab work, including lab meetings. Again, be sure to discuss expectations with the faculty member so that you’re clear on what is expected of you.

Course Requirements

Students signed up for PSY 3840 must complete the following, in addition to their lab work:

  1. Online training in Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). The training must be completed within the first month of classes or students will be forced to withdraw from PSY 3840.
  2. Reflection paper at the end of the semester. Students complete a four to five page paper reporting on the project they worked on over the course of the semester. Students will receive guidelines from the program coordinator. A copy of the paper is due to the faculty sponsor and the director of undergraduate studies on the last day of classes for the semester.

If you are searching specifically for a paid position, most labs advertise their availability on the student employment website.