My good friend, Dr. Nate Lambert, is a faculty member in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. In his spare time, he writes a blog for the APA called “Publish and Prosper.” Aside from being an entertaining writer, Dr. Lambert provides some fabulous advice! His post from earlier this month, called “7 Things You Must Know to Get Into Your Dream Grad Program” is particularly valuable for UVU psychology undergraduates as sometimes students find it difficult to get grad school/career advice specific to (1) psychology and/or (2) a field other than clinical or counseling because they don’t know where to look. For UVU students, taking BESC 3100: Grad School and Career Prep during your sophomore year is your best option. For those who haven’t had the chance to take it yet, referring to Dr. Lambert’s article can give you some direction until you can take BESC 3100. Dr. Lambert points out that the first thing to do is figure out an area of psychology and some research topics that really interest you. The next most important thing is RESEARCH! He suggests:
“Get Research Experience. Getting research experience is SO important for preparing for your dream graduate program for a number of reasons:
1. It is a good test to see if you would actually really like doing research and whether you belong in graduate school to begin with.
2. It can help you figure out what you are most interested in studying (or it can eliminate some topics) by exposing you to the actual research process on potential topics.
3. It will set your application apart from the rest because you will have real world experience in doing research and as a result you are a step ahead of most applicants on what matters most to the professors who will hire you as their apprentice.“
It’s never too early to start seeking out research experiences. On my team, I am willing to accept first semester freshmen, if they are willing to prove to me that they have the drive to succeed. Often, students don’t realize that graduate schools want to see more than one letter from a research mentor (specifically in research-related areas of psychology), which means you’ll need to work on more than one research team to get the letters you need. In order for your research mentor to get to know you well enough to write a letter of recommendation for you, you are going to have to spend a significant amount of time working for them. My team members know that I need at least two semesters of consistent contact to be able to write a solid letter for them. Finding a research mentor during the last semester of your senior year just won’t cut it.
By now, you probably realize that an undergraduate research experience is valuable. But, how on earth do you find someone to work with? Dr. Lambert suggests the following:
“To find a research opportunity keep your ear open, check bulletin boards, ask department secretaries, and talk to fellow students. Look up all the professors in your department and seeing who is doing research you may be interested in. Email the professor and let her know how interested you are in her topic. Volunteer your time to help in any way on any of her projects that she could use help with. Also, suggest that if she isn’t taking students, you would love to know if she is aware of any other professor who might be looking for some extra help because you are interested in getting experience for graduate school. When you get a research position, make sure that you do a rocking job so that you can learn everything you can and so that you can get a killer recommendation from the professor.“
For UVU psychology students, you should go to the Behavioral Science Department website to view the faculty members. Scroll down to the Full-Time Faculty section. On the whole, three letters from full-time faculty members are required by graduate programs. That doesn’t mean you can’t work with a part-time (adjunct) faculty member. It just means the adjunct letter will have to be a supplement to the three you get from your full-time faculty letter writers. Once you identify the faculty members you might like to work with, visit their professional pages. Usually, faculty members will list their contact information and their research interests on their UVU Professional Page. For example, you may want to look at mine. Aside from seeing what I look like, you can find all my contact information. I list my research interests, current projects, and research assistant opportunities on my page. Other faculty members do not. You may need to email them directly to get a feel for what they are doing.
If, after reading this, you still feel a little lost, contact your advisor. Their contact information is on the same page as the faculty and staff list. All the Behavioral Science advisors teach BESC 3100 and are able to give you excellent advice on research experiences.