Director: Eric R. Dahlen, Ph.D.
Gaining Research Experience in Psychology as an Undergraduate
Undergraduate students thinking about applying to graduate programs in Psychology are often advised to obtain research experience to strengthen their applications. This is good advice, especially if the student does not wait until his or her last year of college to do so. Most graduate programs in Psychology find research experience to be desirable for their applicants, and working as an undergraduate research assistant (RA) is one of the most effective things students can do to strengthen their applications.
Believe it or not, working as an RA in a Psychology research lab can be valuable for a number of other reasons too. Here are just a few examples that come to mind:
- Some students do not discover their passion for research until they have the opportunity to be part of a research lab.
- Obtaining research experience allows students to develop the sort of portfolio of skills many employers are seeking (e.g., knowledge of the research process, interpersonal awareness, the ability to contribute to a team, effective problem solving, organization and time management).
- By working as an RA, a student provides a faculty member with the opportunity to get to know him or her in a meaningful way, and this often results in a more relevant letter of recommendation (i.e., the professor is able to address the student’s potential to succeed in the research-related aspects of graduate training and/or address many of the job-relevant skills noted above).
- Being part of a research lab often gives students a clearer understanding of the research process, and this can translate into improved performance in Psychology courses.
- Working as an RA in a lab that includes graduate students provides undergraduates with an accurate idea of what it is like to be a graduate student, what to expect from graduate training, and additional opportunities for mentoring.
- Students can sometimes opt to earn elective course credit by working as an RA in a lab.
Undergraduate students enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus can learn more about joining the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab and explore other opportunities for gaining research experience in the department.