There are many undergraduate research opportunities available with different faculty in our department. Students typically receive 1-3 credits per semester as a research assistant. Research credit usually counts as experience credit (PSYC 494, COMM 494) or directed study (PSYC 499, COMM 499). You must receive permission from the faculty member before signing up for research credit. After permission is granted, the main office can place permission on your account for registration.
Steps to Become a (Successful) Undergraduate Research Assistant
Think about what you want to do—now and after you graduate.
- Being a PSYC494/COMM494 student can offer multiple benefits.
- You can learn specific skills, such as: developing research plans and proposals; conducting literature searches; learning methods for collecting, organizing, and analyzing data; and preparing presentations, manuscripts, and reports.
- You can learn general skills, such as learning how to organize complex projects, practicing working in teams, and developing leadership abilities.
- You can build your resume and build connections with faculty members who can provide advice and letters of recommendations that may help you secure employment or admission to graduate programs.
- We encourage you to approach PSYC494/COMM494 as an opportunity to acquire the types of skills and assets outlined above, and to recognize that you may not be able to investigate the exact topics that most intrigue you (and are very unlikely to have opportunities to pursue an independent program of research).
- Positions are competitive. You should think at least a semester ahead and not wait until the semester has already started to search for a research position.
- Please see our current faculty members. Eventually, we will have available a list of Psychology & Communication faculty members who may have opportunities for undergraduate research assistants along with their areas of study, what your responsibilities might include, and their expectations and selection criteria.
- Gather additional information about the faculty member’s research, such as research aims, methods and findings. Some faculty members maintain websites where you can find more information about them and their work. You can read some of their papers or other outputs of their lab (e.g., conference posters, videos of their presentations). If you’ve not taken a class from a particular professor, perhaps attend one of their lectures. Speak with other students who have been research assistants. Ideally you will identify faculty members who have an active lab, interests similar to your own, and a history of working successfully with undergraduates and supporting their professional development. But do not expect all these qualities to be available to you!
Determine how many hours per week, weeks per semester, and semesters per year you can dedicate to being an RA. Typically, you are expected to devote three hours per week for each research assistantship (PSYC/COMM494) credit hour.
Write an email or visit them during their office hours. Be sure to identify the project and some of the information you have learned about their research. Describe (or include a resume that lists) your year in school, major, relevant courses you have taken, and any relevant training you have acquired. Ask to meet to talk more about the project.
- Tips for a successful meeting. As with any interview situation, be engaged, punctual, prepared, and personable. Clearly state that you are interested in being a research assistant and why you qualify for the position. Answer questions honestly and have questions ready for them. Ask for decision date and thank them for their time.
- Have a backup plan. If the professor does not need help, you have lost nothing and gained experience in asking. Ask if he or she knows of someone with similar interests who is looking for help, or simply approach the next person on your list.
Who will you be reporting to? What will your specific duties be? What will your specific hours be? What do they consider an "A" performance? Are there additional books or articles they recommend that you read?
Seize opportunities to describe your work to others, and discuss with your mentor opportunities to help present the research within the university or at other venues such as conferences.