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What counts as research/work/volunteer experience?


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Hey everyone, 


This question sounds a bit silly, but I was looking at the curriculum vitae forms many psychology graduate programs have students send in when they apply and I noticed that they all asked for work, research and volunteer experience. I really want to get as much as I can (only 2 years left in UG max) but I simply do not know where to begin looking? I do not know a whole lot of people here (although I do know some profs well) and so I do not have great connections to get a psychology job in the summer or anything like that. So, does anyone have any suggestions on what I should do to get research, work or volunteer experience relevant to psychology?? 


Thanks guys and gals :) 

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Look for professors in your department who have active research programs, e.g., look for their websites or recent publications. If their website has instructions for potential research assistants follow those instructions. If not, read some recent papers of whichever professors look like they're doing interesting work and send them an email offering to volunteer if they need people with reference to what you found interesting from what you read. Or, if your department does independent study courses you could approach them from that angle, i.e., to work with them for credit.   Last, look for funded opportunities from your university, e.g, there is a summer NSERC research award that can fund undergraduate students for the summer.

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I just wrote a professor who's research I like an e-mail whether he could use some help as I love to learn more about the research process and that topic and would like to pursue a PhD. Sometimes I mentioned a specific skill (like one person worked with hormones, I wanted to learn more about that and those projects are labor intensive anyway) Did this with multiple people through the years, never had a bad respond, sometimes just that they were too busy and one went on maternity leave so fair enough. Approached 2 with my own idea - one didn't have time, the other project now has 2 manuscript in prep for publication. Most profs will be very helpful though. In the end you're also helping them.

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In addition to the above suggestions, look at part-time jobs in the field if your interest. The career fair at your school will likely also help. TSS jobs and summer camp jobs can be helpful. You can also look at college clubs for volunteer experience.


College Volunteer Activities

  • Psychology Club
  • Nami on Campus (see if your school has a branch or potentially start one!)
  • Honor Societies (Psi Chi)
  • Diversity/Awareness Clubs
  • Diversity/Awareness Centers

All of these tend to outreach for other volunteer work. At my UG two of which helped students get onto crisis hotlines for additional volunteer experience or certified for other involvement. You get into them by simply going to a meeting. Look up club and honors organizations at your college to see what they have.


College Jobs

  • Supplemental Instructor/Teaching Aid
  • Tutor
  • Receptionist/Office Assistant in a department of interest
  • Residential Assistant

Again, most of these you need to look up your campus to see what they offer and have openings for. This is a very short list, as it's tailored to my personal experiences. I left off food service as it doesn't really help to develop skills you want.


  • Behavioral Health employers (summer work or part-time)
  • Summer Jobs in general
  • Internships

A lot of times, you will need to just look up what behavioral health employers are nearby and look at their hiring page. When I'm looking for a job I average about 10 applications going out a day minimum of 2 months before I need the job. (3-4 for full-time regular employment). You can also use career fairs at school and talk to your career center.


  • Join a research team
  • Independent Study

As the above said, ask a professor your interested in working with. Furthermore, if you worked on a class project you want to continue into research, talk to that class professor about doing an independent study. Those are amazing for first authorship opportunities.

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From my experience, it was extremely hard to find any paid research job with my Bachelors degree, even the low paying PT ones. I was applying at Universities mainly and I understand that a lot of people with Masters degrees apply for those same jobs that only require a Bachelors. I was a research assistant during my undergrad, so it's probably easiest to stay in touch with your department and try to volunteer by emailing professors or phd students who have current research projects. I moved out of state after I graduated so this wasn't an option for me, but I definitely think being an alumni would help. 

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@lewin's advice is really good. I am not in your field but I did exactly what lewin suggested to find my first work experience in my field! I would add that since you say you know some professors well, you can talk to them too because they might have some department-specific advice or might know some good opportunities. Having a good connection with your faculty is important, and one way to continue cultivating this relationship is to email the profs you know well to say that you're thinking about applying to grad school in Psychology and that you would like to meet with them to get some advice / ask some questions. Then, come with some good questions, such as what are some courses that they recommend, what is their advice for selecting grad schools and how to find research experience. They will probably have additional good advice too.

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