Psychology Department

How to do Student Research in the Psychology Department

There are two ways that a student in the Psychology Department can participate in research. A student can:

  • assist in a professor's research project (research assistant) or
  • develop an independent student research project.

The decision on which direction to choose is a combination of the students experience, previous course work, abilities and motivation. All students must be connected with a faculty supervisor and must have begun the research before signing up for research credit. Students are limited by departmental policy to receive a maximum of six credits for research. It is important to realize that a research project will usually require more than two semesters to complete.

Who Should Participate in Research?

Any student who is seriously considering a doctoral program should participate in research. Graduate schools and especially doctoral programs are highly competitive and many assume that students have engaged in research. However, grades and GRE scores are more important than research experience. Therefore, students should consider their time commitments and make sure that research will be most beneficial to their goals. It is strongly suggested that students have a 3.0 GPA or higher before considering a research commitment. If your GPA is below 3.0 your time will probably be better spent trying to raise your grades or studying for the GRE.

How to be a Research Assistant

Research positions on the undergraduate level are unpaid. A research assistant is a student who aids a faculty member in the collection and analysis of data on a project that has been designed and implemented by the faculty member. Each professor prescribes the extent of participation they require from students. This work may span from typing in data to assisting in the design or implementation of the research.

What are the Prerequisites?


  • Permission from the faculty supervisor
  • Intro to Psychology Course
  • Other criteria to be determined by the faculty supervisor


  • A faculty supervisor who is doing research in an area that interests you
  • A psychology course on the topic of the research
  • Statistics and Research Methods (PSY245 and 246)
  • Competence with computer applications

How do I Get Started?

Most professors who are involved in research are inundated with students each semester who want to participate in their research. It is advisable to contact professors at least one semester and preferably one year before you want to do research. Choose a professor who is doing research that interests you and be willing to be flexible with times and duties that you are willing to perform. Begin reading the professors previous publications (and other related papers) prior to beginning your actual duties.

How do I Find a Professor to Work With?

The department has a list of faculty and their research interests. In addition, the bulletin board in the Psychology Department exhibits some representative recent publications by psychology professors. Once you think you know who you would like to work with, speak to that professor directly. Each professor may have a different concept of what a student assistant would or should accomplish.

What Will I Be Doing?

It is common to begin research at an entry level and to build from experience to "bigger and better things". Be prepared to work with a professor for at least one year, it is necessary to develop a working relationship and it takes time to learn the many facets of the research process. At first you will probably be acquiring participants, collecting data and sitting in on research meetings with your faculty supervisor and his or her other research assistants. You may also become involved in the statistical analysis of the data.

How to do Independent Student Research

Independent student research is defined as a student developed, designed, implemented and analyzed scientific investigation into behavior. Many competitive graduate school programs are looking for applicants who have participated in this kind of research. Students who are considering graduate school should consider this challenging yet rewarding experience. Very often, a student starts out as a Research Assistant and then is encouraged to develop a related individual project of his/her own.

What are the Prerequisites?

It is necessary to have a faculty supervisor for any student research. The following are divided into required or suggested prerequisites:


  • A faculty supervisor
  • Intro to Psychology Course
  • Statistics I and II (PSY245 and 246)
  • Computer competence


  • A faculty supervisor who is doing research in your topic area
  • A psychology course on your topic
  • Experience as a research assistant

How do I Get Started?

The first thing you need is a faculty supervisor who will help you plan and develop your project. It will be necessary to plan for at least 1 1/2 years to complete most projects.

  • do an extensive literature review on your topic
  • Develop the project
  • Obtain permission
  • Get funding
  • Obtain a research space and participants
  • Analyze results
  • Display or publish results

How do I do a Literature Review?

The university library has a Psychology Literature (PSYCH LIT) search on computer. Journals not contained in our library can often be borrowed through inter-library loan.

How do I Develop the Project?

Students will need different amounts of assistance depending on previous course work and experience. Choose your topic carefully and a literature review may help you find an area of specific interest. Your faculty supervisor can help you locate or obtain permission to use already developed psychology tests, tasks, instruments, or questionnaires.

How do I Get Permission?

Permission is granted to students through the Psychology Department's research committee. Forms are available from the department chairperson. Included in the information for approval you will need:

  • An informed consent form
  • A full copy of all forms, surveys or tests that will be administered
  • A full description of your research including everything you will say to the participants
  • A debriefing statement
  • A time schedule with the number of participant that you hope to attain

How do I Get Funding?

Funding is currently available in two ways. Each grant has specific criteria and deadlines. Grants often require the recipient to report the results at the end of the project. Follow the instructions carefully.

  • A $200 grant and application forms are available through the office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Visit the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs' Student Funding Opportunities page for a list of current grants, scholarships, and internships.

How do I Get Research Space and Participants?

Your faculty supervisor will need to help you reserve space at the university. This is done through a computerized room reservation system. Once the rooms are reserved you may recruit participants through the subject pool. The subject pool consists of first year psychology students. All approved research can utilize the subject pool. You must develop a sign-up sheet and place it in the hallway of the Psychology Department and give a list of times and dates to the Psychology Department secretary. The sign-up sheet must include:

  • Title of the project
  • Short description of the project
  • Time and Date of the project
  • Location
  • An emergency Name and Phone Number
  • A tear off reminder for the participants

How do I Analyze my Results?

Actually, you should know how you will statistically analyze your results before you run your study. this is part of the planning process. Assuming that you and your faculty advisor have already discussed and planned the statistical analysis, you can use the resources of the Academic Computing Center (ACC) for the analysis itself. The ACC in Anderson Hall is equipped with SPSS and other statistical programs.

What do I do with my Results?

There are several options for undergraduates to display their research and results. On campus there is a biannual Academic Festival. Off campus there are numerous Psychological Conferences that welcome student submissions. Your faculty supervisor may be able to assist you in finding and choosing an appropriate conference. You may submit:

  • A poster presentation
  • A paper presentation

Research may also be submitted to professional journals for consideration. Journals published by the American Psychological Association (APA) require all submissions to be in APA format. The APA publishes a manual which contains all pertinent requirements. However, there are many other journals which may or may not use APA style. The "instructions for contributors" are usually printed inside each volume of the journal. If your results are good enough for publication you will almost certainly need close collaboration with your advisor to whip the manuscript into shape. Scientific writing is a skill that requires some experience.


Both a research assistantship and independent student research will require work and commitment. The results will make you more competitive for graduate school admissions and will enable you to perform quality research when you get there. Good Luck!!