Undergraduate Directed Research

Undergraduate Directed Research

Everything You Need To Know

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Researcher leading child cognition study with toddler

Directed Research (PSYS 392/492) is a class in which you work on a research project with a faculty mentor. Unlike a regular class, where you follow a fixed syllabus, a Directed Research project is much more open ended. The key requirement for Directed Research is that it leads to a product (e.g., a writeup or poster presentation about your work), that can be graded. Learn more from the dropdowns below:

No two Directed Research projects are alike. The range of possible projects is enormous and depends very much on your interests and those of your faculty mentor.

Past projects have included analyzing behavior in game shows, running neuropsychological studies on older adults, measuring electrical signals in the brain in response to stimuli, and exploring the causes and correlates of implicit bias. Some of these projects have even led to published papers such as this work on phishing email detection  or this work on how personality affects participation in the Psychology Subject pool

In some projects, you work largely on your own on a small research project. In other projects, you work in a group as part of a much larger project. In all cases your work is ultimately supervised by a faculty mentor who assigns a grade for the Directed Research course at the end of the semester.

The key requirement of your Directed Research project is that it leads to a product that can be graded. This product can be almost anything, so long as it can be assessed by the faculty mentor to assign a letter grade for the class. Example products include: a Powerpoint presentation delivered in lab meeting, a poster, a written report, computer code to analyze experimental data, an organized dataset that is ready for sharing, etc.

Seeking out a lab and/or faculty member to work with will be a proactive process on your part.  While your advising team and the Psychology Department can assist with the basics, ultimately, you will be responsible for seeking your research lab. Here are some tips:

  • Check your email.  Directed Research opportunities are sent out through the Psychology-Advising email to all students on our student listserv throughout the year.
  • Read and refer to the Psychology Monthly Newsletters.  Announcements about research opportunities are sent out in the newsletters.  Archives of the newsletters can be found HERE
  • Talk to your faculty!  Your instructors are likely also researchers.  Speak with them about their labs and inquire about opportunities
  • Check our Faculty Research areas.

Contacting faculty members can seem intimidating, but professional communication is a skill you'll need your entire career, so this is a great way to practice!

  •  For each of the labs at the top of your list, write an email to the faculty or their designated contact, being sure to address them by their proper title, like Professor or Dr.  (not "hey")
  • You email should say, in your own words, your grade level, major, and you are looking for a lab position.  You are particularly interested in their lab because…(some of this can be from the web site review you did, but keep it short).  Then ask if they have any open positions and if so, you would like the opportunity to be considered for it.  You can attach a resume if you like.  Make sure that your email is grammatically correct, that all the words are spelled correctly, and that you don’t use text-messaging short cuts, like “i” instead of “I.” 
  • See our Email Etiquette Guide for help writing a successful email.
  • Be patient, yet persistent.   Faculty members and busy labs receive a lot of emails each day, and you should be prepared to wait 3-5 business days during the fall/spring semester. Most faculty do not work regularly during the summer, so response times will be slower.

Because you work with a faculty mentor, signing up for Directed Research credit is slightly different to a normal class. Instead of simply signing up for the class, you need to first make contact with your potential mentor and obtain their agreement to work with you. You can find a list of potential mentors and their contact information here.

Once you have identified potential faculty mentors, reach out to them to discuss what kind of projects you could do in their lab. Some mentors will have ongoing projects that you can step into, others will be willing to work with you to develop a new project involving new experiments or analyses.

To help set expectations before you begin your Directed Research project, it is important to fill out the Directed Research Enrollment Form (below), which outlines goals for the project and a timeline to achieve them.

Directed Research Form

Once your form is completed, signed by you and the instructor, submit to psychology-advising@arizona.edu or bring to Psychology Department Office in Psychology 312.

In order to fulfill the 9-unit requirement, you should plan to sign up for Directed Research credit across 3 semesters (3 units per semester) in your junior and senior year. However, if you find an opportunity earlier in your undergraduate career, you can begin as early as your second year.

Directed Research should take up no more or less time than a regular class. This corresponds to 3 hours per week per unit. In most cases, students take one 3-unit Directed Research class per semester and should expect to work approximately 9 hours per week on their project.