Find a Lab & Earn Course Credit for Research
Although some faculty members are willing to work with volunteer research assistants, most faculty prefer working with students who enroll in a Supervised Research course (P493, P494).
If you enroll for 3 course credits, you'll work about 10 hours per week in a faculty lab.
STEP 1: Find labs that interest you.
- Start by thoroughly exploring lab websites and the faculty directory. When you find labs of interest to you, look to see if there is information about how to apply for an RA position in that lab.
- Network: Talk to your professors and academic advisors about your interests and ask them to recommend labs for you to check out. Talk with other students about their experiences working in labs.
- Explore the Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity website. Students may soon be able to search a list of research and creative projects posted by some Psychological & Brain Sciences faculty members in the URCA database.
- Look for fliers posted around the psychology building!
- Watch for announcements on the PSY/NEUS Student Opportunities Blog on the ~PSYUGRAD homepage and read emails from academic advising.
STEP 2: Apply to labs.
- If there are instructions online about how to apply for a particular lab - by completing an online application or visiting the lab to pick up an application - then follow those instructions.
- If you don't see instructions online, then contact the faculty member by email or phone. Let them know what term you would like to begin and ask if you can drop by their office hour or make an appointment to talk with them.
Example email - seeking a research assistantship.
Dear Professor [Name],
I am seeking a research assistantship starting in [term]. I read about your research on [list a few topics] at your lab website and I'm really enthusiastic about working with your research team.
I've already completed [list a few relevant classes - such as Introductory Psychology, P211, K300, upper-level courses directly relevant to the professor's research] 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]
Should you prepare a resume and cover letter?
You might want to prepare a resume and cover letter that you could attach to your email inquiry, submit with your application, or take to a meeting. If you do,
- Target your resume! Include an objective statement that focuses on a research assistantship in that faculty member's lab. Describe courses and other experiences that are relevant to that particular RA position.
- Your cover letter is the perfect place to reveal that you have a general idea of what this researcher's work entails, know how the RA position is important to your career goals, and are eager to learn more about the position.
Prepare to meet with the faculty member or lab associate.
You want to appear informed, prepared, and eager to learn and work, so:
- Do your homework. You are not expected to be an expert, but you should have a general idea of what this researcher's work entails. Start by reading descriptions of research projects on their lab website and practice describing the projects and why you find them interesting to a friend. 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 comment on what you thought about them.
- Be prepared to ask questions: What you would do as a research assistant in their lab? With whom would you work? Would you be involved in an ongoing research project or a project that you devise on your own? Can you tour their lab, attend one or more lab meetings, or volunteer to see what it is like?
- Be prepared to discuss your career goals and why this lab experience is important to your future plans.
What if...? Frequently asked questions about the application process.
What if a faculty member doesn't reply to your email immediately? Do not be discouraged. Wait a week or two and then email them a second time. It is possible that they are out of town at a conference or busy with a publication or grant deadline.
What if a faculty member says they don't have any openings for RAs in their lab during the term you want to start? This is why we suggest that you apply to several different labs.
What if a faculty member says you should contact someone else in their lab? Do it! Many faculty have research associates who are in charge of answering student questions, collecting and evaluating applications.
What if you apply to more than one lab and are accepted into more than one lab? Congratulations! It is definitely okay to approach more than one potential research mentor simultaneously. Your goal is to find a great research opportunity and shopping around is allowed. If you end up with more than one offer, decide which one you will accept and promptly contact the other faculty member and decline their offer with sincere appreciation. This way, the researcher that you turn down will be able to recruit other students.
STEP 3: Fill out a research agreement.
- If accepted, pick up a research agreement form from Advising (PY 229).
- Meet with the faculty member to complete and sign the form.
- The faculty member will determine the appropriate course for credit (PSY- P493, P494, or P495).
- Return the completed form to PY 229 for permission to register.
STEP 4: Register for credit.
- Use the Student Center in OneStart to enroll.
- Enjoy your lab experience!
Earn Course Credit for Research - click for PDF.