RESEARCH IN PSYCHOLOGY AT NYU: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why would I do research?
- Because you find it interesting. You may be the kind of person who is curious about many things, not satisfied with easy answers, and excited to find answers yourself. It may be that you don’t know yet if you find research interesting. You may just want to get a taste of it to find out.
- To prepare yourself for graduate or professional school. It is difficult to get into good Ph.D. programs in psychology without research experience. The same is true for some master’s programs .Professional schools treat research experience as a major plus especially if you end up as author on a journal article.
- To get a recommendation letter for grad school, med school, etc. While practically important, professors usually frown upon applicants for whom this is the primary motivation.
How do I approach a professor?
- Cold emailing them is fine, but be specific. Generic emails get deleted or ignored. Do your homework: read the lab’s website, some (abstracts of) recent papers, and think about why you are interested in that lab specifically. (This also means, be selective about which labs you approach. It’s better to write detailed, specific emails to three professors than identical emails to ten.) In your email, make clear that you have done your homework and explain why you are interested in that lab specifically. You could even offer some ideas, no matter how preliminary.
- If you have a TA you like, talk to them about their research. Besides learning more about what research entails, they might be your conduit into the lab they work in.
- Don’t feel that you are bothering a professor. It is your right as a student to have access to research opportunities, and to get advice from professors on those. Err on the side of being annoying. And yes, that includes following up if you haven’t heard back in a week. Some professors deliberately only reply after getting more than one email, because they apply sort of a practical test of your determination.
What if I don’t know which lab is good for me?
Approach the professor, have a chat, see how well it clicks. If possible, talk to people already in the lab to see if they like what they do and the atmosphere in the lab. If possible, attend lab meetings to get a glimpse (see above).
What to look for in a lab?
- Most important: you are currently excited about the questions they are asking. You will not understand all the questions and certainly not all their findings, but the general approach should speak to you.
- Nice, normal, positive people. Not just the professor but everyone. You end up spending a lot of time around these people so you better like them.
- A professor or other mentor who is sufficiently available. You need someone to ask questions of and brainstorm with, preferably on a daily basis and without having to make an appointment.
- That the lab have published regularly over the past few years. Doesn’t have to be a ton of papers or the very top journals, but regular production is a sign that a lab is functioning well.
- A specific project that you will work on.
When to look for research opportunities?
You can’t start too early but it is (almost) never too late. If you are a freshman or a sophomore: excellent! Junior or senior? Still a good time. Many professors are looking for serious, motivated students and don’t require any experience with research.
Even if you graduated without engaging in research, it is not too late – you can apply to be a paid, full-time research assistant in a lab at NYU or at another university (or lab manager or research technician – slightly different functions but often similar responsibilities).
How do I ease into research?
- Some labs have regular lab meetings to discuss the progress of lab members or a recently published paper. Sitting into these meetings (and actively contributing by asking clarifying and other questions!) will allow you to get an idea whether you enjoy the topic, the process, and the people in that lab. It will also give the professor a chance to check you out without formally accepting you as a lab member. Plus it will make a good impression that you are going to the trouble of going to these meetings.
- Take the research methods class (see below).
- If you have a TA you like, talk to them about their research. Besides learning more about what research entails, they might be your conduit into the lab they work in
Can I do research in a lab combined with coursework?
- PSYCH-UA.999 Research Methods and Experience (every Fall, Spring). No pay, but course credit. You work in a lab and attend a seminar where research is discussed.
- PSYCH-UA.200, 201 Honors Tutorial (every Fall, Spring). No pay, but course credit and designation as an honors student at graduation. You work in a lab and attend a seminar where your research is discussed in detail and you practice presenting it. You must be admitted to the Honors Program.
What does a lab look for?
Professors realize that experience has to start somewhere so they might not require specific skills. However, having a strong background in programming and quantitative skills (obtained through coursework and/or self-study) is a huge plus in most Psych labs. Writing can also be important, depending on the lab. Certain personality traits are super important in research regardless of the lab:
- Conscientiousness / reliability
- Persistence, especially in the face of setbacks
- Being organized
Do I get paid for research?
There are two routes:
- Paid part-time research assistant position while still studying
- After graduation, full-time, paid position as a Lab Manager
- You can also apply for the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund to get money for your research and even support to continue research during the summer.
What if I find too many things interesting?
Don’t panic! It is common to find many things interesting, and this will automatically narrow down. Don’t let it paralyze you into not choosing anything at all. Just apply for a position in a lab that currently feels good, and don’t hesitate to change your mind if you find out that it is not a good match after all – you will have learned skills and most importantly, something about yourself.
Can I leave a lab if it doesn’t work out?
Yes, of course. It is not a prison. There are many reasons why you might want to leave a lab earlier than you had planned for. You will always have the option to leave and look for another lab. And it will not have been wasted time – you will have acquired skills and perhaps learned something about yourself.
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