Research Experience

What is psychological research?

Psychology is an empirical science. “Doing research” in psychology means asking questions about behavior, designing and running experiments and collecting data regarding those questions, analyzing and interpreting the results, and communicating these results to colleagues. Research is often thought of as the domain of the academic psychologist, but a good deal of research conducted in psychology is done in clinics, community health programs, the armed forces, industrial and corporate research units, etc.

The foundations of research skills should be established in the undergraduate years. Particularly if you anticipate going to graduate school in psychology or in other related professional areas, you should consider obtaining some first-hand experience in research while an undergraduate.

How do I get involved in research?

The first step is to identify a laboratory where you would like to gain your experience. There are a number of ways to do this.

  1. Check out available research opportunities posted here. These projects have been listed specifically by faculty and graduate students who are seeking research assistants.
  2. Talk with your course instructors and teaching assistants about research projects that they are conducting.
  3. Browse the notices about available research positions on the bulletin boards on the first floor of the Psychology Building.
  4. Look through faculty members’ individual webpages to see who is conducting research of interest to you (see for a listing of faculty and links to their webpages).
  5. Get involved with the Psychology Club. The club will announce opportunities for research positions periodically.

Once you have identified laboratories of interest, contact the faculty member or graduate student to find out about the availability of research assistant positions as well as the specific laboratory’s application procedures. You are encouraged to do this as early as possible, as some laboratories have a limited number of available positions. It is best to apply towards the end of the semester prior to when you want to begin working in the research lab or as early as possible in the semester you want to begin working.

How do I go about doing a senior thesis?

A senior thesis is an original and substantive research project conducted under the close supervision of a faculty member. If you think that you might want to do a senior thesis, then you should first become involved in research as a research assistant (see previous paragraph); this will enable a faculty member to get to know you, after which he/she may be willing to consider supervising you in a senior thesis. A thesis is a serious commitment, both in intellectual effort and in time. Most thesis projects require at least two semesters (or more) for completion, in addition to the time first spent gaining experience as a research assistant.

Can I get course credit for my involvement in research?

There are several individual work courses that allow students to engage in ongoing research and to obtain course credits for this work. Note that research taken for credit must be voluntary and unpaid. Credit may be obtained for the following courses: PSY 4911, PSY 4905, and PSY 4970. Although many students begin with PSY 4911, these courses do not have to be taken in sequence, nor do all of the courses have to be taken prior to conducting a senior thesis. Students can take 1, 2, or 3 credits per semester, to be determined in conjunction with your research supervisor. For each credit taken, you must complete 45 hours of work during this semester. This translates into 3 hours per week during Spring and Fall semesters, 3.75 hours per week during Summer C, and 7.5 hours per week during Summer A or Summer B (for each credit taken). Note that you can now take 0 credits for PSY 4911 and PSY 4940, so if you have already taken the max # of credits in these courses, you can still sign up for them under 0 credits. Across all of these classes (and also PSY 4940 for teaching experience and PSY 4949 for community work), a maximum of 9 credits can be taken, and these 9 credits will count toward the 36 PSY credits required for the major. You cannot exceed 9 credits under any circumstances (e.g., you cannot take additional credits that only count toward your degree but not your major).

PSY 4911 and PSY 4970 are graded as pass/fail, whereas PSY 4905 earns a letter grade. As with any course, credit for these courses cannot be awarded retroactively, so if you want to earn credit, make sure to register for the individual work course in the semester that you plan to work. Registration for these courses is available through the midpoint of the semester (dates will be posted under the “Critical Dates” link). If you have a scholarship, you should check with financial aid about any consequences for adding these courses after drop/add.

For quick reference, here is a table that summarizes key differences between the individual work courses:

Course Course Number Grading Max # of Credits that Count Toward Major
Undergraduate Research in Psychology PSY 4911
(this includes credits taken under PSY 3912, PCO 4911, and CLP 3911)
S/U 9
Individual Work in Psychology PSY 4905 Graded 4
Senior Thesis PSY 4970 S/U 4
Introduction to Teaching in Psychology PSY 4940 S/U 4
Community Work in Psychology PSY 4949 S/U 4

***Remember, only 9 credits IN TOTAL of the above individual work courses (PSY 4911/PCO 4911/PSY 3912/CLP 3911, PSY 4905, PSY 4940, PSY 4949, and PSY 4970) can be taken.***

  • Undergraduate Research in Psychology (PSY4911)

You can take a maximum of 9 credits of PSY 4911 (this includes any credits taken under PCO 4911, PSY 3912, and CLP 3911). Students participate in ongoing research in psychology, assisting in such phases as experimental design, data collection, and analysis. It is intended for students with little direct laboratory experience.

To enroll, fill out and print this registration form, and obtain the signature of a faculty supervisor. If the faculty member is not in psychology or clinical and health psychology, you must get a member of the psychology department to sign the form as the faculty sponsor. Once signed, take the form to the Psychology Advising office (135 PSY), where an advisor will register you for the course.

If you plan to work primarily with a graduate student as your supervisor, you still must obtain a signature from the graduate student’s faculty supervisor. If you plan to work on research with a member of the Clinical and Health Psychology faculty, you may sign up for CLP3911 (Introduction to Clinical Research) and receive credit toward the psychology major, but you must do this through HPNP (go to HPNP 3158 or call 273-6455 for more information).

  • Individual Work in Psychology (PSY4905)

12 semester hours of psychology are a prerequisite for taking PSY 4905. You can take a maximum of 4 credits of PSY 4905. Qualified students and the faculty supervisor choose a particular problem for investigation from the various areas of psychology. Although there are various uses for which PSY 4905 is appropriate, students typically sign up for PSY 4905 when developing a senior honors thesis idea or when doing a directed readings course as an independent study with a professor. PSY4905 cannot be used for supervised research that should be taken under PSY 4911.

To enroll, you must first arrange to take this course with a faculty supervisor. Fill out and print this registration form, form, prepare the 1-2 page proposal described on the registration form, and obtain the signature of a faculty supervisor. If the faculty member is not in psychology or clinical and health psychology, you must get a member of the psychology department to sign the form as the faculty supervisor. Once signed, you will take the form and the proposal to the Psychology Advising office (135 PSY), where an advisor will register you for the course if your proposal reflects an appropriate use of PSY 4905. This is a graded course, so you must work with your faculty supervisor to establish the extent and nature of written work from which your grade can be assessed. Furthermore, the amount of work should be representative of the number of credits that you are signed up for.

  • Senior Thesis (PSY4970)

24 semester hours of psychology are a prerequisite for taking PSY 4970. You can take a maximum of 4 credits of PSY 4970. Qualified students may enroll in PSY 4970 to conduct a senior thesis, an original and substantive research project under the close supervision of a faculty member. To be eligible to earn high or highest honors, students must take at least one credit of PSY 4970 in the semester that they will defend their thesis (often the same semester they will graduate), although typically several previous semesters will have already been spent working on the thesis.

You must first arrange to take this course with a research supervisor, i.e., the chair of your thesis committee. Any faculty in the psychology department (excluding adjunct faculty) can serve as a thesis chair. You and the chair should then identify two other faculty members, at least one who is a psychologist with a research focus, to serve on your thesis committee. The purpose of the thesis committee is to direct and assist you in all phases of the project. Once your committee is familiar with your thesis project, you should apply for IRB approval if your project is not covered by your advisor’s current IRB approval, so that you can begin conducting the research. NOTE: If the research supervisor is NOT a faculty member in the psychology department (e.g., is in another department, such as Clinical and Health Psychology), you must find a Psychology faculty member to serve as a co-chair of your committee.

To enroll for PSY 4970, you will need the following information: (1) the names of the members of your thesis committee, (2) your IRB approval #, and (3) your written thesis proposal, (at least 7 pages in length, double-spaced), consisting of an introduction and method similar to what will appear in the actual thesis. Your proposal must outline the following: 1) specific aims or purpose of the project, 2) review of pertinent literature, 3) type and number of subjects to be tested, 4) apparatus or materials to be used, 5) techniques or procedures for data collection, 6) methods of data analysis, and 7) possible outcomes of the study and their interpretations for the senior thesis. The typed proposal must accompany the registration form. If you are not able to complete this proposal, then you will not be able to register for PSY 4970 and instead should consider signing up for PSY 4905. Note, also, that the undergraduate coordinator will review your proposal, so make sure turn in your proposal at least 1-2 days before the registration deadline.

Fill out and print the registration form, and obtain the signature of your faculty supervisor (again, it must be a faculty member in psychology). Once signed, you will take the form and proposal to the Psychology Advising office (135 PSY), where the undergraduate coordinator must review your form and proposal. You will be notified when your PSY 4970 form has been approved by the undergraduate coordinator, after which the advising staff can register you for the course.

Information about the senior thesis defense process and awarding of honors:

In the semester that you defend, you will have written a formal thesis, according to the guidelines of the American Psychological Association. You will arrange a thesis defense, where you schedule a time to meet with your thesis committee, prepare an oral presentation, and answer questions from your committee. Before the defense, print out a copy of the thesis defense form (see steps below), and take this form to your defense. If approved, your committee will sign your thesis defense form and will also evaluate your thesis as worthy of High or Highest Honors. Detailed instructions regarding this process are given below:

  • If you are planning to complete your thesis this semester, discuss the thesis defense with your thesis committee chair so that you can be prepared for what to expect. Typically, students prepare a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation summarizing the project and its findings, then the remainder of the meeting is spent with the committee asking the student questions. The defense can take place through the last day of classes of the semester. You should plan to distribute your written thesis to the committee at least a week in advance of the defense date, if possible. To get a room for your defense, first check with your committee members to determine the days and times that they would be available. Then, visit see a calendar of rooms available in the Psychology building (scroll down to see different rooms). If there is a room available at the day/time you need, speak with Jackie in PSY 114 (her email is also to reserve the room. The earlier you can do this, the better chance you will have of getting a room at the time you want.
  • You will need to print out and bring the senior thesis defense form (click here) to your defense and give it to your committee chair. There are instructions on this form for both the student and the committee chair. For the student part, you can type in the top half of the form, then print it out if that’s easier. For the committee chair, this form also contains guidelines that the committee will use to evaluate the student’s thesis as worthy of High or Highest Honors.
  • After your defense, return the completed/signed senior thesis defense form, along with the three individual evaluation forms, to PSY 135 AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, but no later than the last day of classes. If your thesis chair prefers to turn in the individual evaluation forms separately (and not give them to the student), ask them to leave the forms in the Undergraduate Coordinator’s mailbox in PSY 114, as I cannot process the honors until I receive all of the paperwork.
  • Finally, students must submit their thesis electronically to the Honors Program at the site At this site, you will complete the online Honors Thesis Abstract Submission Form. You will also have the option to publish your thesis in the Institutional Repository (acceptable formats are PDF or Microsoft Word).

You must complete ALL of the above steps to ensure that your honors designation is processed correctly and in a timely manner

  • If you enroll in PSY 4970 but do not defend a thesis that semester, you must submit a progress report to PSY 135 by the last day of classes, explaining the progress that you have made on your thesis research over the semester as well as your plans for completing the research in a subsequent semester. There isn’t a set amount of pages, but the report should be detailed enough to document what you have accomplished this semester (as a function of the number of credits that you are registered for). Occasionally, students must discontinue working on their thesis and under those circumstances, you must give a detailed explanation for your inability to finish the thesis in a subsequent semester. This should be a rare occurrence; if you sign up for PSY 4970, you are doing so under the expectation that you will complete a senior thesis as described above. You do not need to get your mentor’s signature on this – simply turn in a paper copy of the progress report to psychology advising.
  • If you are planning to continue working on your thesis next semester, you must sign up for PSY 4970 credits in the semester that you plan to defend. We have a max of 4 credits that can be taken for PSY 4970, so if you have already done 3 this semester, then you can only sign up for 1 next semester. You will need to fill out the PSY 4970 paperwork again (you can use the same thesis proposal that you used this semester, just attach it to a new form that is signed by your advisor) and turn that into PSY 135.