Early Scientist Program
The Early Scientist Program in the Department of Psychology gives undergraduate psychology students a chance to become actively engaged in research early in their careers – right after finishing the general psychology course (PSY 121). The program helps students start developing strong research skills as soon as possible – as freshmen or sophomores – and start them down the path to becoming expert researchers.
Over the course of their college careers, Early Scientists who continue working in research labs and pursuing independent research projects develop superior research skills. These skills are highly desirable in the job market and make students more competitive applicants for graduate school. With the extra years of laboratory research experience offered to them, they often go on to compete for university-level undergraduate research grants to support their own projects, complete honors theses, present research projects at major conferences around the country, and even publish papers in professional research journals. But these accomplishments take time and effort, which is why Early Scientists have an advantage. They get an early start and therefore have more time to achieve a high level of research training. Graduates of the early scientist program have gone on to many graduate and professional schools.
In addition to the valuable research experience, the Early Scientist Program is a good way to get to know faculty and graduate students working in the research labs in the department. It is a good way to stand out and get to know professors well enough to get a meaningful letter of recommendation for jobs or more advanced training (i.e., graduate school).
Who can participate?
Currently, the Early Scientist Program is “by invitation only,” meaning that you have to be asked to join, and is open only to psychology majors. Typically, the top 5% of students in PSY 121 are invited each year. Students who are eligible for the program will be contacted via email by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The email will include details about the program requirements and procedures.
What if I’m not eligible for the program? Can I still do research?
There are many other more traditional ways to get involved in scientific research at UNCG. We pride ourselves on both the quality and quantity of research opportunities available to our students. If you want to do research, but were not invited into the Early Scientist Program, you can still apply to join labs in the traditional way.
The psychology major is strongly focused on the scientific approach to understanding mind, brain, and behavior. We offer students the exciting opportunity to conduct research/independent study under the direction of a faculty member through “Directed Research in Psychology” (PSY 433). A related course is “Directed Reading” (PSY 490). These experiences enable selected students to become closely involved in research and/or investigate a specific topic in depth with the one-on-one guidance of a faculty expert.
Conducting independent research is extremely important for acceptance into graduate or professional programs in psychology and is considered an asset for other degree programs (e.g., counseling; medicine; law; social work) and for obtaining employment. Students enhance their understanding of the discipline, but also acquire practical skills (e.g., data management) that are useful in a variety of contexts. The close student-faculty interaction provided by an independent study allows for a meaningful letter of reference that enhances employment prospects and/or the chances of acceptance into a first-rate graduate or professional program. Many of our graduates have furthered their training in psychology through graduate work at other universities, including: George Mason University, Princeton University, University of Minnesota, the University of Tennessee, Virginia Tech, UNC Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, Wake Forest University, and Duke University. In addition, students in our undergraduate program may apply to remain at UNCG to pursue the MA and/or PhD degrees in psychology.
How to Enroll
- Contact the faculty member whose research program interests you. If you’re not sure what type of research or independent study you want to pursue, look at the faculty directory/descriptions of research to learn about the areas of expertise of each faculty member.
- Once you’ve narrowed down your interests, contact the relevant faculty member directly to ask whether they are currently supervising these experiences and whether there is any special training/qualifications that you need to work in their lab (different labs have different requirements).
- If you and the faculty member come to an agreement, you will need to enroll in the relevant course by completing a PSY 433/490 form, which is available in the Psychology Department office, in addition to the Registrar’s form.
- You will work with the faculty member to design and/or conduct research on the chosen topic. Activities may involve data collection and entry, statistical analysis, and/or library research.
- Most students meet regularly with their faculty supervisor to discuss the problems under study, the progress of the research, and any problems that arise during the research.
- You will write a paper, present a poster, or undergo some other formal evaluation of research activities by the end of the semester in which you registered for independent study. Many students write papers describing the hypotheses they tested and the results of their research. Note that the precise type of evaluation, and your final grade in the course, will be determined by the faculty member who supervises your work.
Some faculty members offer directed study opportunities in the summer. Check with an individual faculty member to see if they are taking students in the summer, and then fill out the needed paperwork and enroll in the section taught by “staff.”
Research in related disciplines
Psychology majors who conduct research through HDF 401 (in Human Development and Family Studies) or independent study in Counselor Education (CED) may request from the psychology department’s director of undergraduate studies that the course be counted as PSY 433 for the degree requirements for the Bachelor of Science Degree. This is not an automatic process and requires a brief letter from your research mentor explaining what you did as part of the experience. We do not definitively decide whether or not it counts until after you complete the experience, but research mentors may write to the director of undergraduate studies if they are concerned that an experience might not be equivalent. In general, if a student conducted mentored psychology-relevant research in a lab or field setting for course credit, there is a good chance we will approve it.
McNair Scholars Program at UNCG
The McNair Scholars program is a federal program funded by the U.S. Department of Education designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral programs. UNCG-McNair is a competitive, rigorous training program that gives undergraduates opportunities to complete research with faculty mentors and prepare for graduate-level studies. Its ultimate goal is to diversify faculty demographics across the nation by providing experience and training to students typically under-represented in the academy.