Undergraduate Research Opportunities


 Psychology, like most sciences, has many different dimensions and sub-disciplines. Each of these disciplines contributes to our overall understanding of what humans do in various situations, as well as how and why they do it. For example, given the task of increasing productivity in a workplace environment, different psychologists will take different approaches:

  • A social psychologist might consider the amount of progress made on projects when done individually versus in dyads or groups.
  •  An industrial/organizational psychologist might apply goal-setting techniques and restructure the compensation system to increase motivation.
  • A biological psychologist might consider the amount of stress and tension in the environment and its impact on individual employee performance through adrenaline and cortisol.
  • A cognitive psychologist might consider the amount of work per employee and how similarities or differences across the workload might impact the ability to complete it all efficiently and accurately.
  • A developmental psychologist might consider how older employees are adapting to the fast pace of today's work environment or the increased use of technology.
  • A clinical psychologist might consider the interpersonal relationships within the workforce and how those relationships impact overall productivity.

Ultimately, all of these psychologists would then turn to carefully designed research experiments, both in the workplace environment itself and controlled laboratory space, in order to begin describing and assessing these systems. Experimental design and analysis is perhaps much more integral to the work of a psychologist than you might expect, which is why participating in undergraduate research early in your academic career is especially important.

Why participate in undergraduate research?

There are several reasons why getting involved in conducting research experiments can be important to your career as a psychologist:

  • Experiences in the lab will help solidify the theories you learn about in class.
  • Getting your hands "wet" can help you identify which disciplines of psychology you truly enjoy and which you would rather set aside.
  • Whether you are applying for jobs at graduation or to graduate school, research experience will be an important asset to your rêsumê/curriculum vitae.
  • It's fun! Sometimes you get to be a part of small victories in science, which is incredibly rewarding in and of itself!

When should I get involved?

The earlier you get involved in a lab, the better. Remember that, just as it will take time for you to learn your role in the lab, it will take time for the faculty and grad students to mentor you. In fact, there are faculty members who won't even consider taking on seniors who don't have any research experience. You will gain the most experience if you start during your sophomore year. This will give you enough time to get acclimated to your duties, plus potentially switch to a different lab during your senior year for a secondary experience in a new discipline or research area. However, you can still have a very successful experience if you start during your junior year as well, as this may allow you to choose the labs you apply to with more specificity.

Where can I get research experience?

Many faculty members and labs in the Department of Psychology are open to the involvement of undergraduate research assistants. However, the following labs are especially welcoming due to high data collection volumes and a variety of projects:


Dr. Yi-Ching Lee and Dr. William Helton: Mason Transportation Institute
Dr. Jane Flinn: Memory Research
Dr. Sarah Fisher : Center for Adaptive System of Brain-Body Interactions
Dr. Thalia Goldstein: the Social Skills, Imagination, and Theater Lab
Dr. Craig McDonald: Electroencephalography
Dr. Matt Peterson: Visual Attention and Cognition Lab
Dr. Tyler Shaw: Hemodynamics, Automation, Resilience & Trust (HeART) Lab
Dr. Jim Thompson: Human Cognition Research
Dr. Adam Winsler: The Winslab

If you're unsure if a lab and/or faculty member is open to research, please feel free to email him or her and ask! In addition, remember that often the graduate students are the ones conducting the research hands-on. If you think a graduate student has a project you find particularly interesting, ask him or her about it! They will probably be excited to describe it to you and may consider mentoring you directly. 

What types of compensation are there for my time?

Some labs may have the funds to pay research assistants, but that is an unusual case. Instead, most research assistants are either on a volunteer basis or receive course credit for their work. This is arranged using the PSYC 460 designation through the advising office and counts towards your total number of credits for that semester (so it is important to consider whether or not you have reached the 16 credit limit with standard tuition!). This arrangement should be sorted out prior to the start of the semester and involves some paperwork and footwork on your part, so the earlier you contact potential labs, the better.

How can I get started?

First, download and fill out this form. Then save it with the filename structured as follows: LastName_ExpectedGradYear_Research.docx. For example, Smith_2018_Research.docx

Send the application to Dr. Mike Hurley in the advising office (mhurley2@gmu.edu). He will then forward your application to the faculty who might be interested in your help. Please note that the application requires you to name at least TWO labs you might want to work in based on the descriptions found on the department website. The shortlist above under "Where can I get research experience?" is a good start, but please also go to the program pages to see what other faculty might have research in which you are interested.