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How to Become A Research Assistant (RA) in Cognitive Science

Working in a Cognitive Science-related Research Lab or with a COGS Research Mentor

Working in a Cognitive Science-related lab or with a COGS research mentor on Grounds provides great work experience, whether or not you envision a career as a cognitive scientist or researcher.  Research Assistant positions for undergraduates are available--in the Department of Psychology, the School of Education, the Engineering School, the Medical School and others.  As a Research Assistant, you learn important skills that are not easily taught in the classroom, such as operating technical equipment, speaking to and teaching study participants, coding and analyzing data, and designing experiments. For area based research in disciplines that do not have traditional labs you can work as an RA with a faculty mentor to support their research and develop your own line of research within their field of expertise.

Research
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Gaining acceptance into a lab or asking a faculty member to work with them to conduct research in their area of expertise

Contact the lab(s) that interest you and inquire about their application process. 

When writing to a lab or potential faculty mentor, here is a basic template to follow:

  • Keep your inquiry short, i.e., one paragraph and maybe a few bullet points. 
  • Always address the Professor by their title and greet them (e.g., Dear Professor Xxxxx).   
  • Introduce yourself briefly (year and major) and mention any relevant experience and/or interest in the laboratory’s or research's field of study. If you are unable to think of anything specific, go back to their website and check their publications.  
  • Explain that you would like to join the lab or to work with them as an RA and state the length of time you’re willing to commit (at least two semesters is a common expectation).  
  • Offer your CV or resume for consideration, as well as any other helpful information (previous mentors, etc.).  
  • Sign off with a greeting and your first name (e.g., Appreciatively, Xxxxx) 
  • If you get no response, and you are really interested in the lab or working specifically with a particular faculty member, email again in a week or two. Professors are busy and your email might have slipped their radar. Total of three attempts is considered normal, but if you receive no response after that, choose another lab or mentor to contact. 
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Earning Academic Credit for Participating in A Research Lab (2-3 Credit Hours COGS 3960 or PSYC 3590)

Participation in research is highly encouraged for undergraduates in Cognitive Science. The course work required for the major provides you with exposure to all of the areas of Cognitive Science, and research should enhance that experience rather than replace it. While research experience is very important to your education, it does not count towards your 30 credit hours for completion of the major.

If accepted to an RA position,  2 or 3 credits can be earned through COGS 3960 or PSYC 3590 (2 credits generally corresponds to 7 hours of RA work per week, 3 credits corresponds to 10 hours). 

Add yourself to the SIS permission list for COGS 3960 (or PSYC 3590) under the section for the professor*.

*If your research advisor does not have a section of COGS 3960 listed or is in a department other than Psychology  (e.g., School of Education, Medical School), ask your research mentor to contact the COGS Director—Per Sederberg—so he can approve adding a section of research. 

Your Lab Coordinator, Professor, or Research Mentor will then grant you permission to enroll.  Direct any questions about the process to your respective faculty.