PSY 4993/5993: Directed Research

This course presents the unique opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the research lab of a distinguished faculty member and is the most common way undergraduate psychology students engage in research. It is required for those pursuing a BS, and comes highly recommended for all psychology majors.

What to Expect

The activities of a research assistant vary according to the type of research being conducted and the current needs of the lab. Your responsibilities should be discussed with the lab staff prior to enrollment. Examples of tasks undergraduate research assistants have completed in the past include:

  • Recruiting and/or debriefing study participants
  • Collecting, coding, entering, and/or analyzing data
  • Securing literature sources
  • Participating in lab meetings

The academic component of the experience most often includes reading articles and writing a five-page APA-format paper in addition to performing standard lab tasks. Generally, students will register for three credits of research, which amounts to about nine hours per week. Students can register for 1 - 6 credits of PSY 4993. PSY 5993 is always set at 3 credit hours. 

How to Register

Ready to submit? 
Undergraduate Research Contract

Registration for PSY 4993/5993 is done on a contractual basis and requires additional permission to the standard registration system. Before registering for PSY 4993/5993, you must follow these steps:

1. Identify a faculty mentor/topic of interest. In order to do this, you will need to spend some time reading about the different research interests of faculty. To explore, look at psychology department facultyadjunct facultyresearch labs, and read the Psych Scoop newsletter weekly.

2. Send a personalized email to faculty or adjunct faculty with whom you would like to work. In the email, express interest in becoming a research assistant in their lab. Talk about how your interests connect with the faculty member's work and list any relevant academic or work experiences. You will likely need to go through this process several times before finding a lab with an opening that is a good fit.

3. Follow any next steps the faculty may require in determining your eligibility for lab participation. This varies depending on the lab and may include sending a résumé and transcript, meeting for an interview, or providing your availability.

4. Once a lab position is secured, work with your faculty mentor or project supervisor to fill out the Undergraduate Research Contract. The contract is intended to clarify the academic components of the experience, the specific lab duties required of you, and how your work will be evaluated.

5. After the contract is successfully completed and submitted, psychology advising will send you instructions to enroll.

Working in a child psychology research lab? If you are planning to work in a Child Psychology research lab (with a faculty member from the Institute of Child Development) and register for CPSY 4994 credit, this experience can be used towards the psychology major as PSY elective credit; however, you must fill out a Psychology Undergraduate Research Contract and have it approved by psychology advising by the end of the 2nd week of the term. If you do not fill out a research contract by this deadline, the credit will not be applicable toward the major.
Working in a research lab NOT in psychology or child psychology? If you are working in a research lab that is psychology related but is NOT affiliated with a psychology or child psychology department faculty member, you may need to petition to receive PSY credit. Contact advising for more information.

Registration Guidelines

1. Understand your options. Psychology BS majors (and BA majors who elect to participate in the Research Lab major project section) may complete the PSY 4/5993 requirement concurrently with PSY 3901W: Major Project OR the semester immediately prior to PSY 3901W. 

2. Plan Ahead. Research positions fill quickly. We recommend beginning to contact faculty and apply for research labs when registration begins for the term you want to take PSY 4/5993 (for example, if planning to take research fall semester, begin applying in April; if planning to take it spring semester, begin applying in November). 

3. Network! Form a relationship with Psychology instructors (both faculty members and graduate students) by attending office hours and inquiring about research opportunities in classes you enjoy. Making these connections will help you stand out when you apply to research positions. 

4. Consider doing research for a full year (or more!) Faculty members often give preference to students who are willing to work in their lab for a full academic year. Any additional semesters you take of PSY 4/5993 will count for elective credit in the Psychology major. 

5. Know the requirements. Many reserach labs place high value on academic performance (e.g. GPA, previous coursework, etc.) Some research labs require students to have a GPA of 3.0 or above. If you have a lower GPA, finding a research position is not impossible, but will require significant effort. Start applying early and don't be afraid to ask Psychology Advising for assistance.