Carnegie Mellon University

Become a Research Assistant

Undergraduate research experience helps to make you a competitive applicant for graduate programs in any field and can also help you to decide which graduate programs are the right fit for your interests.  The practical and analytical skills you will gain while working in a lab will also make you more attractive to potential employers.

Before applying to work in a lab, you should ask yourself:

  • What topics have most interested you in your psychology courses?
  • What skills do you want to gain?
  • How much time can you commit per week?

Then, peruse our Research Labs page for more information about labs, their research areas, and their requirements for research assistants.

Be prepared to be flexible as you choose a laboratory. In any lab, you will develop a feel for the flow of research, general research skills, and a relationship with a research mentor. As you grow as a researcher, you will move into research areas that more and more closely match your personal and intellectual interests.

Contact the labs you are interested in to see if there are openings available.  Most labs require you to submit your current resume/CV and an application. 

If you are invited to meet with a faculty member and/or the lab manager, come prepared! Visit the faculty member’s web page and read about their recent work. If there are multiple students who apply for the same position, you are more likely to be chosen if you show genuine enthusiasm for the lab’s work. Also be prepared to discuss how your skills and interests are a good fit for the lab.

Read some of the faculty member's publications and write an email to them detailing your interest in their research.  At the end of the email, ask them if they have available positions in their lab. If you are a good fit, the PI may be open to working with you.

The requirements and needs of each lab vary, but undergraduate students generally have the opportunity to collect and prepare data, run sessions of research studies, help recruit participants for research studies, and contribute to published manuscripts. Many faculty members also hold weekly or bi-weekly lab meetings in which they discuss progress on ongoing projects, relevant scientific literature, and students’ graduate school and career options.

Research assistants can work in a faculty research lab during Fall, Spring, and Summer semesters.  Individual labs have different needs at each time of the year, so be sure to contact the labs you are interested in to see when they have positions available.

In addition to gaining valuable research experience and skills, undergraduate students may receive course credit for their lab work.  You may receive between 3-12 credits per semester and can also receive course credit for working in a laboratory during the summer.  To receive credit, you will need to contact Emilie O'Leary (Undergraduate Program Coordinator) to register for the Research In Psychology Course 85-507(Fall) 85-508(Spring).  You must obtain permission to work in a faculty member's lab before registering for the course. 

To receive course credit for your work you will need to register for Research in Psychology within the first two weeks of the semester.