Research Opportunities

We encourage interested students to apply to participate in ongoing lab research projects within the Department of Psychology. You can start working in a research lab as early as your first semester at Columbia.  No prior psychology coursework is required for most positions!  We want to help you find a spot.  Our main recruiting event, the Lab Preview, is held at the start of the fall term.  At the Lab Preview, you will learn about psychology research opportunities for the upcoming semester.   Most of the researchers at the Lab Preview will represent labs in the Psychology Department, but some will talk about psychology research being conducted in other departments.

Participating in research can be an important part of your undergraduate experience, and it is especially important if you are thinking of applying to graduate school in Psychology, Neuroscience, or related fields. By joining a lab, you can see how research is conducted -- how ideas are developed, how data is analyzed, and how presentations are put together for conferences and publication. If you are involved in a lab for the long term, you may even contribute to a project that enables you to present your findings, attend conferences, and even be a published researcher yourself. Some students volunteer or find work-study positions as research assistants. After they've established a connection to a lab, students wishing to receive course credit for their research can also sign up for PSYC UN3950 Supervised Individual Research with their Principal Investigator (PI), if the PI is a professor in the Psychology department. Students may also wish to apply for the new Senior Thesis Advanced Research program, a three-semester program of coursework and research in a laboratory.


How to Find a Lab

You probably wonder how you can go about finding a position in a lab.  This can sometimes be challenging because there are not always as many spots available in the psychology department as there are students who want to work in a lab.  The links below are a great place to start!

To learn about available opportunities and even find some labs outside of the psychology department that engage in psychology related research, spend some time on the Lab Preview web page.  This page has videos put together by researchers who are looking for research assistants and other information about current opportunities.  You can also learn about labs that are not currently recruiting research assistants that you may want to apply to in the future. 

You may also want to explore psychology- and neuroscience-focused labs associated with Teachers College, the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Columbia Business School, Columbia University Irving Medical School, and other research institutions in New York City. 


How to Apply to a Lab

First gather information.  Read about the lab and the position on the Lab Preview web page.  Make sure that the position requirements are a good match for your time availability, interests, and skills.  Then learn more about the lab on the psychology department research lab websites.  And contact the lab to see if the position is still available.  

Make sure you have an up to date resume, but don’t worry if you don’t have related experience or if you have not yet taken any psychology courses.  Most researchers want research assistants who are enthusiastic and want to learn.  Demonstrate your enthusiasm by learning about the lab!   Before an interview, read at least one of the research papers that is highlighted on the lab website (but don’t worry if you don’t fully understand every detail!).  Once you have your resume in hand, have familiarized yourself with the lab and understand the requirements of the position, you will be ready for an interview.  

Most labs want someone who is organized, responsible and interested in the topic being studied in the lab.  If you can demonstrate that you will be a dedicated research assistant, that will go a long way.  Some labs are interested in people with specific skills, like programming in Java or R, a strong knowledge of statistics or fluency in Spanish.  If you do have those skills, be sure to highlight them on your resume. Even if you haven’t done research before, you probably have skills (e.g., interpersonal, written and oral communication, leadership) that will serve you well in a lab, so be sure to highlight those as well. 

Another resource you can look at for information about current and past research opportunities within our department and at other institutions, is our weekly department newsletters. Make sure you are on the psych dept listserv to get the newsletter in your inbox and be alerted when new positions are advertised!


Types of Research Positions

There are many different ways to participate in a lab.  Students may volunteer, get a work-study position, register for credit (PSYC UN3950 - Supervised Individual Research), and/or, beginning in spring of their junior year, participate in the STAR (Senior Thesis Advanced Research) program. 


Many students volunteer in research labs. This can be a great way to begin your lab work.  Some labs require that students volunteer for a period of time before they will be allowed to register for credit for lab participation.  By volunteering first, you can learn whether or not you want to make a semester-long commitment and you can demonstrate that you will be a serious and responsible lab member. 

Sometimes labs will hire undergraduates as work-study students to work in their labs. Occasionally non-work study positions are available for students with very special skills that are needed (e.g., programming). This must be arranged with a particular lab on an individual basis.

For more information about the work-study program in our department and how to apply, check out our Work-study page.

If you would like to earn credit for participating in a psychology department research lab, you may be able to register for supervised individual research (PSYC UN3950). Most students who register for PSYC UN3950 have already been working as volunteers on ongoing projects in a lab.  To register for PSYC UN3950 you will need permission of the instructor (the faculty member who runs the lab).  

As a research assistant, you may register for up to 4 credits of PSYC UN3950 per term. In general, you should figure that you will be working in a lab for approximately 3 hours per week per credit. This must be negotiated with the specific lab that you will be working in. Different labs have slightly different requirements. As part of your supervised research, you will be expected to do some independent academic work related to the lab work you are doing. This may be a paper or an oral presentation, depending on the lab.  

Psychology Majors and Neuroscience & Behavior Majors who work in labs outside of the Psychology Department may be able to register for PSYC UN3950. To see if you qualify for this option, contact your Program Advisor (DUS).  

Some students would like to do their own independent research project.  If you do, you must first develop a relationship with a lab by working on an ongoing project.  After the lab gets to know you, it is possible that you will be able to develop your own project.  Usually students who develop their own projects are part of the STAR (Senior Thesis Advanced Research) program

If you are interested in making a serious commitment to a research lab, you should consider applying to the STAR Program.  This is a three semester program beginning in the spring of the Junior year and culminating in a senior thesis.  In order to participate in the STAR program, you must have found a research lab to work in prior to the application deadline in November of your junior year.  Most students admitted to the STAR program start working in a lab by the Fall of their Junior year.  More information about the STAR program can be found here.

Check out our weekly newsletters for department events and research opportunities. 

At the beginning of the fall semester, the psychology department holds the Psychology Lab Preview where you can meet representatives from Psychology labs and find out about opportunities.  If you haven’t done so already, be sure to spend some time looking at the Lab Preview web page to learn about current projects in the psychology department that undergraduate researchers can get involved with.