Undergraduate Research

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»Undergraduate Research Experience
 
Interested in gaining hands-on research experience with a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at East Carolina University? Our faculty is engaged in a variety of active research programs that span a number of specializations, methodologies, populations, and designs. Undergraduate students are encouraged to become a part of this research by assisting faculty with new and ongoing projects—an experience valuable for students who are interesting in learning more about one or more areas of psychology in greater depth, becoming an informed consumer of research, and developing skills and abilities valued by employers and graduate schools. Undergraduate research assistants typically register for supervised course credit in psychology in the semester or session that they are working.

Click here for a list of currently available assistantships (.pdf)

»How to apply

If you are interested in working on a research project with some of our faculty members, here are the steps to follow for your application:

  • Read over the list of faculty members who are looking for undergraduate assistants and determine with whom you are most interested in working.
  • Read the information below to get a better understanding of the type of work that you can do (e.g., senior thesis, research assistant, etc.)
  • Complete the online application making sure to answer all of the questions.


Senior Thesis | FAQs | Student Feedback

Senior Thesis

A senior thesis or honors senior thesis in psychology allows students to conduct an original project under the mentorship of a faculty member. Successful completion of a senior thesis can also be used to satisfy the departmental requirement for a capstone course.

What does a senior thesis/honors thesis involve?

The thesis is designed to expose promising undergraduate psychology majors to some of the steps involved in conducting original research in psychology under the guidance of a faculty member. The steps in completing a thesis may include: searching and analyzing the published literature; identifying important and interesting research questions about thought and/or behavior; formulating testable hypotheses; selecting appropriate research methods and participants; securing ethical approval; piloting materials and procedures; collecting, entering, and analyzing data; and writing up research results. This process will help students develop their critical thinking skills, refine their skills in research design, implementation, and analysis, and improve their writing abilities. A thesis paper can be the basis for a public presentation at a local, state, or national conference, or it can be used as a writing sample for graduate or medical school.

Requirements for a Senior Thesis

To complete a senior thesis, a student must:

  • be a declared psychology major
  • have a GPA above 3.0 (overall and in psychology)
  • have passed PSYC 2210: Research Methods

During the time students are working on their theses, they are required to be signed up for PSYC 4401 during their 1st semester and PSYC 4402 during their 2nd semester. Also, to enroll in PSYC 4402, students must meet the additional requirement of having taken at least 2 courses from the learning and cognition, biological bases, or general course groups.

Requirements for an Honors Senior Thesis

To complete an honor's senior thesis, a student must:

  • be a declared Psychology major (see the Director of Undergraduate Studies if you have not declared your major)
  • have a GPA above 3.5 overall and in Psychology
  • have passed PSYC 2210: Research Methods.

During the time students are working on the honors thesis, they are required to register for PSYC 4601 during the 1st semester and PSYC 4602 during their second semester of the thesis. Also, to enroll in PSYC 4602, students must meet the additional requirement of having taken at least 2 courses from the learning and cognition, biological bases, or general course groups.

Sample Timelines

A senior thesis does not necessarily follow a strict timetable. Many students who complete theses begin by gaining experience as undergraduate research assistants. With this in mind, below is a rough timeline for students considering theses.

Sophomore Year


Students should consider becoming involved with faculty research through an undergraduate research assistantship.

Junior Year

Students should begin to identify potential senior thesis advisors. For example:

  • a student who is participating in an undergraduate research assistantship might approach his or her research mentor about the possibility of completing a thesis (note: many faculty members prefer that students complete a research assistantship in their lab to gain experience necessary to complete a thesis)
  • a student might review the list of professors accepting students for thesis and complete an online application, indicating interest in completing a thesis
  • a student might begin work on a senior thesis or honors thesis in the spring semester.

Senior Year

Students must begin senior theses no later than the fall semester of the senior year and plan to spend both fall and spring semesters on their project. A departmental thesis research symposium is held at the end of the spring semester and the thesis is generally expected to be complete at the time of graduation.


FAQs

What does an undergraduate research assistant do?

Undergraduate research assistants help faculty with new and ongoing research projects. This may involve a variety of activities, from helping design and carry out a research study (e.g., recruiting participants, collecting data) to analyzing and presenting the results of a study. Undergraduate research assistantships are a form of supervised out-of-the-classroom study and research assistants typically earn elective course credit in psychology. The specific projects, activities, and credit earned are decided in conjunction with a faculty supervisor.

Are there prerequisite courses for being a research assistant?

Introduction to Psychology (PSYC 1000 or 1060) is a prerequisite for completing a research assistantship for credit. However, many faculty members have specific preferences for students working in their labs - such as having completed a research methods and/or statistics course. You should read each faculty member's research description for an indication of his or her preferences.

What is the difference between research assistantships, senior theses, and senior honors theses?

Being an Undergraduate Research Assistant is a semester-long endeavor in which students can gain research skills and work in the lab of a faculty member in psychology. Students typically register for PSYC 4501 as a 2-credit psychology elective and contribute 6 hours weekly to lab activities; the only pre-requisite is PSYC 1000. Students who continue for a second semester can register for PSYC 4502. If you have never helped a faculty member with research before, it is recommended that you begin with a research assistantship.

Completing a Thesis (PSYC 4401, 4402) or Honors Thesis (PSYC 4601, 4602) is a year-long sequence and capstone that involves developing an independent research project under a faculty mentor's supervision and requires a thesis paper and departmental presentation. Thesis students must be psychology majors, must have passed PSYC 2210, and need a minimum 3.0 overall and psychology GPA. Honors thesis also requires at least a 3.5 GPA overall and in psychology. Plan to complete thesis requirements no later than the spring semester of your senior year (some faculty prefer that you begin in the spring semester of your junior year).

Note: Both research assistantships and theses depend on the availability of faculty mentors, which varies from semester to semester. There are typically more students interested in both research and theses than there are available mentors.Which faculty research lab would be a good fit for me?You will be asked to indicate up to four professors whose research labs interest you. Begin by reading the description that each faculty member provides by clicking here. Try to identify areas of research that interest you, or that you would like to learn more about. Research assistantships are a good opportunity to explore how different faculty members in a range of specialties conduct research.

What information do I need to complete the online application?

The online application will request the following information:
  • GPA (overall) & GPA (psychology)
  • Major and minor
  • Grades in PSYC 1000, 2101, & 2210 (if complete)
  • Four professors whose research interests you
  • Why are you interested in being an undergraduate research assistant, in general?
  • Why are you interested in assisting the specific professor(s) you listed?
  • How did you hear about becoming an undergraduate research assistant?
  • Have you ever been an undergraduate research assistant before? If yes, describe your experience.
  • Describe any work or volunteer experiences that might be relevant to being a research assistant.
  • Is there a professor in the psychology department that knows you well and would be willing to recommend you as an undergraduate research assistant? If so, please provide the professor's name below.
Think about how you will answer each question carefully, since your answers will be viewed directly by potential faculty mentors.

What should I do next if I did not receive a research assistantship?

If you did not receive a research assistantship, please consider applying again next semester. To better your chances of obtaining an assistantship, please consider some of the following suggestions: (a) taking statistics and research methods as many professors prefer students with these courses, (b) earn good grades - particularly in psychology courses and particularly in statistics and research methods, (c) attend classes and psychology department events regularly so that you can get to know your professors, and (d) attend the Psi Chi Undergraduate Assistantships Recruitment and Information Session that is held each semester.

I received a research assistantship - how do I register for course credit?

If you have been offered a research assistantship or thesis opportunity with a faculty member, you will need to complete a course contract with your faculty mentor in order to receive credit for your assistantship. Please click here to link to the contract.

Student Feedback

Name: Vanessa Buonopane
Hometown: Jacksonville, NC
Area of research: Health Psychology
Research mentor: Dr. Lesley Lutes
"I am currently working on my senior thesis, which is looking at what may impact weight changes in adolescents by observing some aspects of their executive functioning."

Name: Anna Gaddy
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Area of research: Personality
Research mentor: Dr. Jennifer Bowler
"By serving as a undergraduate research assistant I hope to gain the experience needed to be successful in graduate school."

Name: John Reid
Hometown: Goldsboro, NC
Area of research: Cognition
Research mentor: Dr. Jon Reed
"We are exploring a supposition that memory, from an evolutionary perspective, developed for the purpose of storing survival relevant information."

Name: Justin Smith
Hometown: Cypress Creek, NC
Area of research: Clinical Health Psychology
Research mentor: Dr. Samuel Sears
"I'm currently examining the affect of Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) shock on cardiac patient's sense of security."

Name: Juliann Stalls
Hometown: Williamston, NC
Area of research: Social Psychology and Well-being
Research mentor: Dr. Derrick Wirtz
"I am currently working under the supervision of Dr. Wirtz and looking at varying levels of self-esteem and self-control to see which of the two is perceived to be a better predictor to positive outcomes in life."

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