Field of Science

Getting a job in psychology

Several friends are applying to be research assistants in psychology labs this coming academic year and have been asking me advice. It occurred to me that there may be readers of this blog who are also interested in advice. With the caveat that this advice is based only on my experience and the experience of a few friends, here it goes.

First, if you are considering a PhD in experimental psychology (by which I mean not psychotherapy), I recommend spending some time as a research assistant (either during college or after) before applying to graduate school. There are at least three reasons:

1) You'll almost certainly get into a better school if you have research experience.

2) You'll have a better sense of what type of psychology you want to study, as well as whether you really want to do research at all. Many people quit PhD programs, or graduate and then decide to do something else.

3) You'll probably be more productive in graduate school, because you'll come in with some valuable skills. This may help you get a leg up on the competition (or possibly prevent them from having a leg up on you).

Of course, many brilliant psychologists started graduate school with little or no background in psychology, much less research experience. Einstein got bad grades in math, but that doesn't mean getting bad grades in math is a recommended strategy for becoming a physics genius.

So where are research assistant positions advertised? I have no idea. I got every RA position I've had (5, counting 2 in high school) by contacting a professor directly and asking if they had an opening. But I have noticed that professors sometimes advertise open positions on their websites.

Finally, it seems like RA positions are usually filled between late February and early April. So if you are interested, now is the time to apply.

PS If anybody else in the field has anything to add, please use the comments.

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