Why should I join a research lab as a research assistant?
There are a number of benefits to working in a lab. First, students can contribute to psychological science by helping conduct research. Second, students can develop research skills, such as critical thinking, working with people, analyzing data, conducting library searches, writing papers, and giving presentations. Finally, students can also get to know professors, which can be helpful for letters of recommendation.
Who can work in a research lab?
While all students can benefit from working in a research lab, students who are thinking of pursuing more education (e.g., graduate school in psychology, medical school, law school) are especially encouraged to work in research lab settings.
When should I join a lab (and am I qualified)?
Students are encouraged to join a lab early in their undergraduate career, such as their sophomore or junior year. For graduate school, you want to get more than one year of experience (if you are a senior, it is a little late, but you can still gain some experience). Ideally, you want to have completed Statistics and Research Methods, or to at least be enrolled in them (a good reason to take these courses early).
What would I do in a research lab?
The specific tasks will vary from lab to lab, but basically you will assist a professor and graduate students in their research. This can include scheduling experiments, running participants in experiments, helping to create materials, coding data, analyzing data, and possibly presenting or writing-up the results of a study. When you first join a lab, you will probably start with some basic tasks, and then as you demonstrate your skills and responsibility, you will likely be able to do more.
How can I apply to join a lab as a research assistant?
Go to the Department of Psychology website and browse through the pages for the different labs. Some labs will have specific instructions for applying, but others may not list any instructions. When there are no instructions, simply contact the professor or lab manager with an email conveying (a) your desire to work in the lab and why, (b) your academic accomplishments (e.g., year in school, psychology courses completed, GPA, etc.), and (c) your contact information.
Does a research lab assistant volunteer, earn credit, or get paid?
It depends on the specific lab. In most cases, students will discuss signing up for credit in PSY 496 (Independent Study) or 498 (Independent Research) with the professor who runs the lab. In other cases, a student may be allowed to simply volunteer (typically if the student has exhausted the 12 credits allowed for PSY 496 and PSY 498). Finally, in rare cases, a professor may have funds through a research grant to pay research assistants.
Is it better to work in one research lab, or is it better to work in more than one?
Some students prefer to work in one lab for an extended period of time and some students prefer to work in multiple labs. Either option is fine, though keep in mind that you will likely (a) want to work in a lab long enough to develop your skills and to form quality relationships with the professor, and (b) need multiple letters of recommendation if you wish to apply to graduate school.
Where are the psychology research labs located on campus?
Psychology research labs are in different buildings around the UNLV campus - check the listing of labs on the Department of Psychology webpage to find the location of a specific lab.
Where is the Department of Psychology located on campus?
The Department of Psychology main office is located on the 4th floor of CBC-B.
Are internships necessary?
They are not necessary, but depending on your career or graduate school plans, they can be helpful. For example, if you plan to work after earning your B.A. in psychology, an internship can be useful because you can potentially make connections for jobs and it also demonstrates motivation and work experience to future employers. Employers report that they like seeing work experience of some type in recent graduates. If you are considering graduate school in an applied area (e.g., clinical psychology, counseling, therapy), then completing an internship in that type of setting may help you be better prepared for graduate school. Also, for those pursuing graduate school, you can consider working in a research lab as a type of internship.
Do students volunteer, earn credit, or get paid for an internship?
Most students do not get paid during an internship; however, it ultimately depends on the clinic or business as to whether they are willing to pay. In some cases, professors may supervise students during an internship and in these cases students can earn credit in PSY 497 (you can discuss this possibility with a professor).
How do I find out about internships?
There are a number of ways to learn about internships. One way is to contact clinics or businesses on your own and to inquire about volunteering or internship opportunities. A second way is to talk with a professor who works in an applied area. Another method is to talk with representatives of UNLV psychology organizations such as Outreach Undergraduate Mentoring Program (OUMP) or Psi Chi. Finally, you can also check with Career Services.
Letters Of Recommendation/Connecting With Professors
How can I form connections with psychology professors?
To put it simply, talk with your professors - you can ask questions during class, talk with a professor before or after class, or stop by during office hours. Most professors enjoy getting to know students. In addition, students can join a research lab where they can work more closely with a professor and graduate students.
How do I get letters of recommendation?
Students can ask professors who know them best if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation. When doing this, please be polite and provide plenty of notice before the letters are due. Also, professors appreciate it when students are organized - provide (a) a complete list of schools or jobs, (b) clear instructions for submitting the letters, (c) a copy of your personal statement and either a curriculum vitae (CV) or resume, and (d) any additional information that can help the professor write the letter.
Psychology Student Organizations
What is Psi Chi? What is Psychology Club?
Psi Chi is the international honor society in psychology and there is a chapter at UNLV that is led by student officers. Each semester, Psi Chi holds meetings on various topics for psychology students. As an honor society, there are specific qualifications for membership. However, any student with a major or minor in psychology can be a part of Psychology Club at UNLV. Psychology Club is a student organization that runs joint meetings with Psi Chi - this means that any psychology students can attend the Psi Chi / Psychology Club meetings.
How would I benefit from Psi Chi and Psychology Club?
Attend the meetings! The meetings cover a variety of topics, including advice for graduate school, information about psychology careers, workshops to prepare for graduate school, professors discussing their research, and poster sessions where students can present research. Also, Psi Chi holds at least one induction ceremony each year for new members. You will also meet a lot of other students who are interested in psychology.
How do I join Psi Chi? How do I join Psychology Club?
Check out the links for Psi Chi on the Department of Psychology website - there are detailed instructions for joining. Remember that you can attend meetings before you become a member. To join Psychology Club, simply go to a Psi Chi / Psychology Club meeting.
Are there other psychology organizations for students at UNLV?
OUMP stands for Outreach Undergraduate Mentoring Program and this is a mentoring program for students who (a) come from a low socioeconomic background, (b) self-identify as a racial or ethnic minority, (c) self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, (d) have physical or learning disabilities, or (e) are international students or have English as a second language. Students who join will be mentored by a graduate student from the UNLV Psychology Ph.D. program.
How do I pick a job?
To start, think about what you would like to do for a career and explore that possibility. For example, you can interview someone who does that job and ask them about the work, pay, pros/cons of the job, and skills required (you can also research this type of information online or go to Career Services for assistance). If that career seems like a good fit, you can then work backward. What degree is required for that career? Will you be able to attain that degree? If so, what can you start doing now to make yourself competitive for that degree? What skills can you develop now that will help? This is a much better approach than saying, “I’m going to get a (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral) degree in Psychology - now, what I am going to do with it?”
Can I get a job as a psychologist with a B.A. degree?
No, to be a psychologist you need graduate training and a Doctoral degree. However, you can become a therapist or counselor with certain Master’s degrees.
What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and counselors and therapists?
A clinical psychologist has a Ph.D. or Psy.D. and is licensed to practice. Clinical psychologists often work with people with severe mental health issues and conduct various forms of complex assessment. Counselors and therapists may consist of different types of mental health professionals who have Master’s or other advanced degrees in areas such as marriage and family therapy, social work, or clinical mental health counseling. Other areas of counseling include school and career counseling.
What types of jobs are available with a degree in psychology?
We recommend that you take a course, such as PSY 200 Introduction to the Psychology Major, that provides information and resources about careers in psychology. You can also check with Career Services for resources of possible of careers. The American Psychological Association is a good resource, and it also has extensive information on various career options for those with a Master’s or a Doctoral degree.
One thing to keep in mind is that, unlike applied degrees like engineering that train you for a specific career, a liberal arts degree (B.A.) is going to make you attractive for a variety of jobs because you will have the opportunity to develop skills in critical thinking, writing, presenting, analyzing information, ethics, and working with others. However, it is up to you to make sure that you take advantage of opportunities to improve these skills while in college (always work to get better - don’t coast through the degree!).
Undergraduate Curriculum And Area Of Focus
Should I start thinking of a focus or concentration area in psychology as an undergraduate?
It depends on your future plans. All students should be exposed to the variety of topics covered in psychology. However, if you are considering graduate school, then as a junior and senior you may want to take more courses related to the area of focus you wish to pursue. The Department of Psychology has posted recommendations for students who are interested in pursuing graduate training in various areas of psychology.
What courses should I take in the psychology major?
After PSY 101 (or at the same time that you are taking it), all psychology majors must take PSY 200 Introduction to the Psychology Major - this course will help guide you through the major and how to plan for your future. The next step is to take PSY 210 Statistics followed by PSY 240 Research Methods - these courses are pre-requisites for many upper level psychology courses and will give you a foundation for understanding research. While you take those two courses, you can also begin to take the 300 level foundation courses. After that, students can take electives and then complete the senior capstone requirement.
What does a minor in psychology entail?
Students who minor in psychology must complete 22 credits in psychology. This includes PSY 101 General Psychology (3 credits), PSY 210 Statistics (4 credits), and PSY 240 Research Methods (3 credits). After that, students must complete 12 credits of upper level psychology courses (300 or 400 level). The department has a neuroscience minor as well.
What is the difference between a B.A. and a B.S. in psychology?
At UNLV, the only option is to complete a B.A. in psychology. Other schools may offer one or the other, or the option to choose with slightly different requirements between the options. However, the difference between these two types of degrees is very small and one is not necessarily better than the other.
Should I have a second major (in addition to psychology)? If so, how do I choose one?
If you have broad interests, then we encourage students to work with advisors at Wilson Advising to plan out a double major. A double major can be useful if students have interests in careers outside of psychology, but where psychological knowledge and skills can be useful. In some cases, such as a career in forensic psychology, a double major of psychology and criminal justice may be very useful. Keep in mind, though, that a double major typically requires careful planning and should be started early in a student’s college path (but it can be done if planned out well).
What are some good minors to pair with a psychology B.A.?
All students are encouraged to consider pairing a minor with their degree in psychology. How to choose the minor depends completely on your interests and goals. For example, students interested in pursuing a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy may want to minor in that while completing the psychology B.A. Students with goals to start their own therapy practice one day may consider minoring in business. Students interested in going to graduate school for cognitive science may minor in a complementary topic such as biology, neuroscience, or philosophy. Finally, some students may simply want to complete a minor in something that they find interesting (besides college, what other time in your life will you have the opportunity to explore that interest in Shakespeare or music?).
Whom can I contact if I have questions about courses or curriculum?
All students should meet with the advisors at the Wilson Advising Center on campus. If they cannot answer your question, then they will likely direct you to speak with a department representative or a specific faculty member.
What Graduate School Is Like
How long does it take to complete a graduate program?
It depends on the degree. For example, a Master’s program may take 2 to 3 years, but a Doctoral program typically lasts several years, approximately 5-7 years in many cases.
What is the difference between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D.?
Both of these are Doctoral degrees - the Ph.D. has been around for a long time, while the Psy.D. only recently became more popular over the past 20-30 years. The major difference between them is that the Ph.D. means that you will be trained as both a scientist and as a practitioner. In contrast, the Psy.D. places more emphasis on clinical training and less on research. The Psy.D. can be great for someone interested only in becoming a practicing psychologist, but the Ph.D. can offer more career opportunities because of its training in both practice and science. Another difference is that admission into Ph.D. programs tends to be more competitive, but Ph.D. programs also typically provide more funding for students.
Can I work at a job while in graduate school?
In most cases, graduate school will be your full time job. Most programs either strongly discourage students from having outside jobs or will prohibit it. There are options for money, though - Ph.D. programs typically offer stipends for graduate students to work as teaching assistants, research assistants, or instructors. In addition, unlike most Master’s and Psy.D. programs, many Ph.D. programs will discount or waive tuition as long as you are making successful progress. Students can also look at student loan options. Each school is different, so check each program’s webpage or ask questions to determine what is offered. Clinical psychology programs, for example, are required by the American Psychological Association (APA) to list expected costs to graduate students.
What should one expect in graduate school? Is it different from undergraduate school?
Graduate school is a different experience in many ways. You will be expected to work autonomously on a variety of projects (research and/or clinical, depending on the program). In clinical, counseling, or therapy programs, you will likely see clients (while being supervised). The courses will be smaller, will cover more complex material, and will likely require lengthy papers. Depending on the program, you will have to complete major exams, a thesis, and/or a dissertation (independent research project). In graduate school, you are expected to become a more professional and independent person as you develop intellectually.
Is going to graduate school a good decision for me?
It depends on you and your situation (e.g., do you have the experience, grades, and test scores to qualify?). If you are going to graduate school because the training and degree are required for a specific career that you want, then yes graduate school is the right decision. However, if you are confused, unsure of what you want, or simply “want to be a doctor”, then graduate school is probably not the right path for you (until you develop a better focus).
Preparing For Graduate School
What are the best ways to prepare for graduate school?
Some important things to do to prepare for graduate school are to identify what you want to do, find the graduate schools that you want to apply for, get research experience, do well in your courses, and do well on the GRE.
Is research experience necessary for graduate school?
For Ph.D. programs, the answer is definitely YES. For Master’s and Psy.D. programs, it can vary from program to program. If you are not sure, then you may want to consider working in a research lab as it can help you develop skills.
What are the key things graduate schools look for in applications?
Different types of graduate programs are going to value different accomplishments. However, in general, most graduate programs look for the following: (a) good GRE scores, (b) clear direction and motivation (conveyed in a writing sample such as a personal statement), (c) excellent letters of recommendation, (d) skills developed through research and/or clinical experience, and (e) evidence of being a good student (e.g., high GPA). For many Ph.D. programs, it is also important that you are a good fit with a faculty member’s research. Keep in mind that graduate programs (and specific schools) differ in how competitive they are for admission - typically, Ph.D. programs (especially in Clinical Psychology) are the most competitive, followed by Master’s and Psy.D. programs.
Do I need to publish a paper or present at a conference as an undergraduate preparing for graduate school?
No, plenty of students have gained admission to graduate school without presenting or publishing research. However, having said that, getting research experience is typically very important for getting into graduate school. So, work in a lab and strive for a poster presentation (and that rare possibility of being an author on a published paper as an undergraduate), but it is not necessarily the end of the world if it does not happen.
What happens if I do not get into graduate school right away?
If you apply and do not get admitted, then it is time for you to re-evaluate your situation. You will likely want to meet with a professor to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your application. In some cases, it may be bad luck that a highly qualified student did not get in. In other cases, a good student may have done something wrong with the application materials or interview. Or, in other cases, students may have either applied to programs that are too selective or have applied to too few schools. For example, some students may be better fits for a Master’s program than a doctoral program. In these scenarios, work to make yourself a more attractive applicant and apply to schools that are a better fit. However, keep in mind that some students may not have the qualifications for graduate school.
Where to Attend Graduate School? What About UNLV?
Where should I go to graduate school?
To improve your odds of being admitted into graduate school, and to make sure you can find a program that is a good fit for you, we typically recommend that students do not limit themselves to a specific location or region. However, we understand that is not an option for everyone. When trying to decide how many applications to send out, think about the competitiveness of the programs - you may want to talk to a professor for some guidance.
What graduate programs are there in psychology at UNLV?
The Department of Psychology has a Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology and a Ph.D. program in Experimental Psychology, with opportunities in the latter to focus on research in Cognition, Development, Neuroscience, or Quantitative Psychology. Students in these programs will earn both a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. Other departments at UNLV offer Master’s degrees in psychology-related areas including Marriage and Family Therapy, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling, or Social Work.
GRE — Standardized Test For Graduate School
What is the GRE?
The GRE is a standardized test (similar to the SAT and ACT for college admission) that is used by graduate schools to make decisions about how likely students will succeed in graduate school. The GRE is administered regularly (you have to set up an appointment) and consists of Verbal, Quantitative, and Writing sections. There is also a psychology specific test, but not all graduate programs require it.
Do I have to take the GRE for all graduate programs?
Most graduate programs in psychology require the basic GRE (Verbal, Quantitative, and Writing) and some require the psychology test as well. Check out the specific requirements for each program by looking at their website or contacting them.
How do I best prepare for the GRE?
There are a number of options for preparing for the GRE. There are many practice test books that are available online or at bookstores. Also, there are services you can pay for that will offer advice, workshops, and/or practice tests (e.g., Kaplan) - these can sometimes be expensive, but watch for specials or free opportunities. Our advice is to prepare for both the Verbal and Quantitative sections, but to spend more time preparing for the Quantitative section because (a) it is difficult to cram vocabulary, and (b) there are only so many types of math questions that can be asked. If you learn how to do the math effectively, then you can do well on the test no matter what problems and numbers are presented.
What GRE scores do I need to get into a particular graduate program?
Scores on the Verbal and Quantitative sections range from 130 to 170, and the Writing section ranges from 0 to 6. Different programs have different minimum scores that are required. We recommend looking at that program’s website for this information, or referring to a source such as “Graduate Study in Psychology” (published annually by the American Psychological Association) that lists information like this for all programs. This book can be found at the library or purchased for under $40 (but be sure to look for the most recent edition).
Scholarships And Awards
What scholarships or awards are available for psychology students?
UNLV does not offer many scholarships or awards that are specific to psychology students. However, we recommend searching the UNLV website as well as websites of psychology organizations (e.g., APA, APS, Psi Chi, etc.) as there are a number of scholarships and awards out there. You can also conduct a broad search on the internet. Keep in mind that you typically have better odds of winning when scholarships or awards are more specific (e.g., certain age, race, major, etc.), more selective (e.g., a GPA above 3.5), or require work such as writing an essay.