Indiana University

Research Opportunities

Research in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences focuses on the issues and challenges that attract students to our majors in psychology and neuroscience. PBS faculty are working to map the brain, understand the human mind, combat social ills, and use the power of psychological science to develop and disseminate highly effective treatments for mental and behavioral health problems.

Undergraduate participation in research is supported by faculty mentors, grants and scholarships, and by opportunities for students to present their results at conferences or publish in journals - including the IU Journal of Undergraduate Research (IUJUR).

About 300 undergraduates take advantage of the opportunity to conduct research with PBS faculty members each year.

Exactly what you might do as a PBS research assistant (RA) depends on the lab to which you apply. You may help create materials used in a study, recruit or interview participants, or analyze data. You'll have support - members of the lab will show you the ropes.

Why should you get involved in Psychological & Brain Sciences research?

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 P106) or Research Methods (P211) or Statistics (K300). We encourage our majors to complete these 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.

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

Lots of students get involved in a research lab, find that they really like it, and stay involved as long as they like.

Talk with your academic advisor and professors about what's right for you. A very general rule:

  • If you're planning to enter the job market after you complete your bachelor's degree, you might aim for 1-2 semesters.
  • If you're planning to apply to a professional or graduate school that is not research-oriented, then a good goal might be 2-3 semesters.
  • If you'd like to attend a research-oriented graduate school to prepare for a career as a psychological scientist or neuroscientist, then you should get involved early! It's common for students admitted to highly competitive research-oriented graduate programs to have completed 4-6 semesters. Students who wait until their junior or senior year sometimes can't obtain as much research experience as they would like before they submit their graduate school applications in the middle of their senior year.

Important: Students who want to earn an Honors Degree are encouraged to complete at least 1-2 semesters of supervised research with a faculty mentor before applying to the honors program.

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 (P493/P494) course credit, RA positions tend to fill around the time students register for classes for the next term. More...

Explore labs and apply in October/November if you want to begin your lab experience in the Spring semester. Explore labs in March/April if you want to start in Summer or Fall.

Important: If you're eager to begin, you can explore labs anytime you like. RA positions do sometimes open up during the semester, so you might find a great opportunity.

Step 1: Find labs that interest you.

  • Explore PBS Faculty Laboratories.
  • The Faculty Directory lists faculty research interests and contact information.
  • Look for fliers posted in PBS. Watch for emails from the PBS academic advisors.
  • Network: Talk to professors, academic advisors, and other students about your interests and ask them to recommend labs for you to check out.
  • 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.

    Neuroscience majors can earn Supervised Research (P493/P494) credit for conducting research in other departments provided that the faculty member's lab is a neuroscience approved lab - check the Application for Neuroscience Certificate & Approved Neuroscience Lab List.

    Psychology majors typically do not receive Supervised Research (P493/P494) 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.
    • If you're interested in school psychology or education, you can earn credit as a RA in the IU School of Education's Academic Well Check Program. Read about the AWCP URE and contact the AWCP team for more information. If you're accepted, then email Dr. Patton to enroll for P493/P494 credit.

Step 2: Apply.

  • The application process to become an RA 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. Example email: Seeking an RA position.

    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 enquiry, submit with your application, or take to a meeting. If so, then target your resume so that the content focuses on an RA position in that faculty member's lab.
    • 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 as an RA? With whom would you work? Would you be involved in an ongoing research project? 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.
    • What if a faculty member doesn't reply to your email immediately? Don't be discouraged. Wait a week or two and then email again. Try using a variant of the example email above.
    • What if the faculty member doesn't have any openings for RAs in their lab during the term you want to start? Apply to another lab for the semester that you want to start. You can re-apply to the original lab in a future semester if you really have your heart set on it.
    • What if you apply to more than one lab and are accepted into more than one lab? Congratulations! It's definitely okay to approach more than one potential research mentor simultaneously. If you end up with more than one offer, decide which one you'll accept and promptly contact the other faculty member to politely decline their offer. This way, the researcher that you turn down will be able to notify other students that they will have a position.

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 - both of you must sign it.
  • The faculty member will determine the appropriate course number (PSY- P493, P494, or P495).
  • Once you're returned the completed research agreement to PY 229, the advisors will enter the information so that you'll be able to enroll via Onestart.

Continue to Research Support: Scholarships, Grants & Programs