Research opportunities

  • Why should you get involved in research?
    • Research opportunities in faculty labs are the primary way that psychology and neuroscience majors can receive personal mentoring from faculty. The student-faculty interaction can enrich your academic experience and professional development.
    • Research experience is valuable preparation for the job market & graduate school.
    • You'll network with other highly motivated undergraduate students and can share information about internships, careers, and more.
    • Earning course credit by working on a PBS faculty member's research team may count as your capstone course - required for the psychology or neuroscience degree.
  • When can you start? What classes do you need to take beforehand?

    Students who start working in a lab during their first or second year in college have the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills over several years. Faculty members who prefer working with eager first- or second-year students typically don't expect those students to have already completed any specific classes.

    Other faculty members prefer that students have completed at least a few key courses such as Intro (P155 or P101/P102) or Research Methods (P211) or Statistics (K300). We encourage students to complete these courses in their first 3-4 semesters! 

    How can you know what a particular faculty member recommends? Explore PBS labs that interest you and look for information about becoming an RA in that lab. If the information you need is not posted on the website, then email the lab or faculty member.

    Important: Students who want to earn an Honors Degree are encouraged to enroll in supervised research in their first year or sophomore year.

  • How much time is expected? Will you need to enroll?

    Students sometimes ask if they can volunteer in a research lab to see what it's like and some faculty welcome volunteer RAs. Most faculty, however, prefer students who will commit to their research team for at least one semester by enrolling for Supervised Research course credit.

    What is a typical time commitment?

    If you enroll for 3 credits, you'll work about 10 hours per week during a Fall or Spring semester.Enrolling in Supervised Research typically reduces the number of regular classes you take during the semester. For example, if you enroll for a total of 15-credits, you'd have 3-credits of lab and 12-credits of regular classes.

    Enrolling in Supervised Research typically reduces the number of regular classes you take during the semester. For example, if you enroll for a total of 15-credits, you'd have 3-credits of Supervised Research and 12-credits of regular classes. 

    Supervised Research may fulfill an important degree requirement (e.g., a capstone/lab course), so it may be part of completing your degree and moving you efficiently toward graduation.

Steps 1-2-3: Find a lab. Apply. Enroll.

The best time to look for a research assistant position is several months before you want to start. Because most students enroll for Supervised Research course credit, RA positions tend to fill around the time students register for classes for the next term. 

  • Step 1. Find labs that interest you

    Explore on your own and talk to professors, academic advisors, and other students about your interests and ask them to recommend labs for you to check out. 

     Explore faculty research interests 

    Discover PBS research laboratories

    Neuroscience majors should explore the labs of faculty members affiliated with the Program in Neuroscience. Once you are accepted to a lab, be sure to consult an academic advisor to ensure that the topic of the research will be approved for course credit. 

    Can students conduct research in other departments? 

    Yes. Psychology and neuroscience majors conduct research with faculty in biology, chemistry, cognitive science, kinesiology, gender studies, medical sciences, and beyond.

    Psychology majors typically do not receive Supervised Research credit for working with faculty outside the department, but there are exceptions. If the faculty member's research is related to psychology or neuroscience, you can meet with an academic advisor to apply for special permission. 

  • Step 2. Apply

    The application process is different for each lab. If there are instructions on the lab's website, then follow the instructions.

    If you don't see instructions online, then email the faculty member to ask about RA positions mentioning the courses you've taken and why you are interested in the topics studied in their lab. 

    Sample email:

    Dear Professor [Name],

    I'm seeking a research assistantship starting in [term]. I read about your research on [list a few topics] at your lab website and I'm interested in working with your research team.

    I've already completed [list a few relevant classes - such as Introductory Psychology, P211, K300, upper-level courses] and am currently enrolled in [list a few relevant classes].

    Could I drop by your office hour or could we set up an appointment so I can learn more about what I would do as a research assistant in your lab?

    Sincerely, [your name and IU email address]

    You might want to prepare a resume to attach to your email, submit with your application, or take to a meeting. If so, target your resume so that the content focuses on an RA position in that faculty member's lab.

    Prepare to meet with the faculty member of lab associate:

    • Do your research. You're not expected to be an expert, but you should have a general idea of what the faculty member's research entails from having read the lab website. Are you really determined to work with a particular faculty member? Read a few of the faculty member's journal articles, take copies with you to the meeting, and ask questions about them.
    • Ask questions about the RA position: What you would do? With whom would you work? Can you tour the lab or attend one or more lab meetings to see what it's like?
    • Be prepared to discuss your academic or career goals and explain why this lab experience is important to you.
  • Step 3. Enroll

    If you're accepted by a lab for an RA position, pick up a research agreement form from Academic Advising (PY 229).

    Meet with the PBS faculty member to complete the form. Remember that both of you must sign it.

    The faculty member will determine the appropriate course: Supervised Research (PSY-X 397 or PSY-X 398 or PSY-X 497); Capstone Supervised Research (PSY-X 498); or PSY-P 499 Honors Thesis Research. 

    Once you've returned the completed research agreement to PY 229, the advisors will enter permission online so that you'll be able to enroll via One.IU.