Working in a research group or faculty/student interaction is an important part of learning and understanding the varied field of psychology. Undergraduates are encouraged to gain independent research experience in their area of interest. Students typically work individually or in a research group for credit (see your mentor for course number and appropriate number of hours).
In Independent Direct Study, students experience firsthand the excitement and frustrations of doing research, they learn techniques that can be useful in subsequent research projects, they begin to integrate their course work knowledge with practical research situations, they can develop responsible work habits, and they make contacts with researchers who may be able to help them make career decisions and who will be able to recommend them for jobs or graduate/professional school admissions.
An important part of working in a research group is demonstrating a sense of responsibility. Research is a collaborative effort and it is critical that an undergraduate student show responsibility. The student should show up at appointed times, work carefully and neatly, return equipment and meet all deadlines for written reports. A student can demonstrate that he/she is a reliable, conscientious worker who would be a desirable addition to a research group. It is easy to alienate a supervisor by being sloppy, late, lazy or inconsiderate, even if it happens only once! It is equally important to remember that future employers will be most impressed by a strong, supportive letter that describes a conscientious worker who takes his/her work seriously. If you do not think you can make a real commitment to a research project or if you can give only minimal effort, it may be best to defer the experience. .
Visit the School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences web page. Our Faculty and Staff page provides information on faculty members and descriptions of their research. In addition, many faculty web pages list some of the publications that the faculty member has authored. You may want read some of these articles before approaching the potential mentor. You may find that these publications are written at a level that is hard to understand, given your exposure to specific scientific areas thus far, but you will probably be able to get a basic idea of what the research involves by reading the Abstract and Introduction portions of the research article.
Once you have an idea of the faculty's research, you are ready to contact them. You may choose to do this initially by email or to send a packet containing a letter of interest and some information about yourself. In some cases, you may be able to contact the faculty by visiting during posted office hours.
In an initial contact with a potential faculty supervisor, you will want to convey some of the following information about yourself and your research interests: