Student Research Assistants

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Undergraduate Research Experience

Interested in gaining hands-on research experience with a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at East Carolina University? Our faculty is engaged in a variety of active research programs that span a number of specializations, methodologies, populations, and designs. Undergraduate students are encouraged to become a part of this research by assisting faculty with new and ongoing projects—an experience valuable for students who are interesting in learning more about one or more areas of psychology in greater depth, becoming an informed consumer of research, and developing skills and abilities valued by employers and graduate schools. Undergraduate research assistants typically register for supervised course credit in psychology during the semester or session in which they are working.

How to Apply

If you are interested in gaining research experience by working with ECU Psychology faculty members, here are the steps to follow for your application:

  • Our current list of faculty mentors for fall/summer 2024 research experience opportunities can be accessed HERE.
  • Once students have studied this document, they may complete the research assistantship application via the link in the document.
  • The deadline to apply for Fall/Summer 2024 Undergraduate Research Assistant positions is Friday, March 29th, 2024.
  • You will be contacted via e-mail by a faculty mentor before the end of the Spring 2024 semester in the event that you are selected to interview for a research experience opportunity.
  • If you have not heard from a faculty mentor by the end of the semester, reach out to them personally to inquire about the status of your application.
  • Feel free to visit Professor Baker in Rawl 112 to seek guidance.
  • IMPORTANT: Since you may not know whether you will be selected for a research assistant position until later in the semester, we strongly advise that you create a full course schedule for yourself by registering for other courses this fall that satisfy your remaining degree requirements as soon as you are able to do so. You can then drop one of these classes from your schedule in the event that you are offered a position as a research assistant. This way, if you are not offered a position, you will still be registered for the classes that you need to take in order to ensure that you are making adequate progress toward completing your degree.

Senior Thesis

A senior thesis or honors senior thesis in psychology allows students to conduct an original project under the mentorship of a faculty member. Successful completion of a senior thesis can also be used to satisfy the departmental requirement for a capstone course.

What does a senior thesis/honors thesis involve?

The thesis is designed to expose promising undergraduate psychology majors to some of the steps involved in conducting original research in psychology under the guidance of a faculty member. The steps in completing a thesis may include: searching and analyzing the published literature; identifying important and interesting research questions about thought and/or behavior; formulating testable hypotheses; selecting appropriate research methods and participants; securing ethical approval; piloting materials and procedures; collecting, entering, and analyzing data; and writing up research results. This process will help students develop their critical thinking skills, refine their skills in research design, implementation, and analysis, and improve their writing abilities. A thesis paper can be the basis for a public presentation at a local, state, or national conference, or it can be used as a writing sample for graduate or medical school.

Requirements for a Senior Thesis

To complete a senior thesis, a student must:

  • be a declared psychology major
  • have a GPA above 3.0 (overall and in psychology)
  • have passed PSYC 2210: Research Methods

During the time students are working on their theses, they are required to be signed up for PSYC 4401 during their 1st semester and PSYC 4402 during their 2nd semester. Also, to enroll in PSYC 4402, students must meet the additional requirement of having taken at least 2 courses from the learning and cognition, biological bases, or general course groups.

Requirements for an Honors Senior Thesis

To complete an honor’s senior thesis, a student must:

  • be a declared Psychology major (see the Director of Undergraduate Studies if you have not declared your major)
  • have a GPA above 3.3 overall and in Psychology
  • have passed PSYC 2210: Research Methods.

During the time students are working on the honors thesis, they are required to register for PSYC 4601 during the 1st semester and PSYC 4602 during their second semester of the thesis. Also, to enroll in PSYC 4602, students must meet the additional requirement of having taken at least 2 courses from the learning and cognition, biological bases, or general course groups.

Sample Timelines

A senior thesis does not necessarily follow a strict timetable. Many students who complete theses begin by gaining experience as undergraduate research assistants. With this in mind, below is a rough timeline for students considering theses.

Sophomore Year

Students should consider becoming involved with faculty research through an undergraduate research assistantship.

Junior Year

Students should begin to identify potential senior thesis advisors. For example:

  • a student who is participating in an undergraduate research assistantship might approach his or her research mentor about the possibility of completing a thesis (note: many faculty members prefer that students complete a research assistantship in their lab to gain experience necessary to complete a thesis)
  • a student might review the list of professors accepting students for thesis and complete an online application, indicating interest in completing a thesis
  • a student might begin work on a senior thesis or honors thesis in the spring semester.

Senior Year

Students must begin senior theses no later than the fall semester of the senior year and plan to spend both fall and spring semesters on their project. A departmental thesis research symposium is held at the end of the spring semester and the thesis is generally expected to be complete at the time of graduation.


What does an undergraduate research assistant do?
Undergraduate research assistants help faculty with new and ongoing research projects. This may involve a variety of activities, from helping design and carry out a research study (e.g., recruiting participants, collecting data) to analyzing and presenting the results of a study. Undergraduate research assistantships are a form of supervised out-of-the-classroom study and research assistants typically earn elective course credit in psychology. The specific projects, activities, and credit earned are decided in conjunction with a faculty supervisor.

Are there prerequisite courses for being a research assistant?
Introduction to Psychology (PSYC 1000 or 1060) is a prerequisite for completing a research assistantship for credit. However, many faculty members have specific preferences for students working in their labs – such as having completed a research methods and/or statistics course. You should read each faculty member’s research description for an indication of his or her preferences.

What is the difference between research assistantships, senior theses, and senior honors theses?

Being an Undergraduate Research Assistant is a semester-long endeavor in which students can gain research skills and work in the lab of a faculty member in psychology. Students typically register for PSYC 4501 as a 2-credit psychology elective and contribute 6 hours weekly to lab activities; the only pre-requisite is PSYC 1000. Students who continue for a second semester can register for PSYC 4502. If you have never helped a faculty member with research before, it is recommended that you begin with a research assistantship.

Completing a Thesis (PSYC 4401, 4402) or Honors Thesis (PSYC 4601, 4602) is a year-long sequence and capstone that involves developing an independent research project under a faculty mentor’s supervision and requires a thesis paper and departmental presentation. Thesis students must be psychology majors, must have passed PSYC 2210, and need a minimum 3.0 overall and psychology GPA. Honors thesis also requires at least a 3.5 GPA overall and in psychology. Plan to complete thesis requirements no later than the spring semester of your senior year (some faculty prefer that you begin in the spring semester of your junior year).

Note: Both research assistantships and theses depend on the availability of faculty mentors, which varies from semester to semester. There are typically more students interested in both research and theses than there are available mentors. Which faculty research lab would be a good fit for me?You will be asked to indicate up to four professors whose research labs interest you. Begin by reading the description that each faculty member provides by clicking here. Try to identify areas of research that interest you, or that you would like to learn more about. Research assistantships are a good opportunity to explore how different faculty members in a range of specialties conduct research.

What information do I need to complete the online application?
The online application will request the following information:

  • GPA (overall) & GPA (psychology)
  • Major and minor
  • Grades in PSYC 1000, 2101, & 2210 (if complete)
  • Four professors whose research interests you
  • Why are you interested in being an undergraduate research assistant, in general?
  • Why are you interested in assisting the specific professor(s) you listed?
  • How did you hear about becoming an undergraduate research assistant?
  • Have you ever been an undergraduate research assistant before? If yes, describe your experience.
  • Describe any work or volunteer experiences that might be relevant to being a research assistant.
  • Is there a professor in the psychology department that knows you well and would be willing to recommend you as an undergraduate research assistant? If so, please provide the professor’s name.

Think about how you will answer each question carefully, since your answers will be viewed directly by potential faculty mentors.

What should I do next if I did not receive a research assistantship?
If you did not receive a research assistantship, please consider applying again next semester. To better your chances of obtaining an assistantship, please consider some of the following suggestions: (a) taking statistics and research methods as many professors prefer students with these courses, (b) earn good grades – particularly in psychology courses and particularly in statistics and research methods, (c) attend classes and psychology department events regularly so that you can get to know your professors, and (d) attend the Psi Chi Undergraduate Assistantships Recruitment and Information Session that is held each semester.

I received a research assistantship – how do I register for course credit?
If you have been offered a research assistantship or thesis opportunity with a faculty member, you will need to complete an Independent Study Form with your faculty mentor in order to receive credit for your assistantship. Please contact your faculty mentor to inquire about this.

Student Feedback

Sarah Best
Hometown: Rich Square, NC
Area of Research: Industrial/Organizational Psychology
Research Mentor: Dr. Lisa Baranik

“The OHP lab has truly been an amazing learning experience and has thoroughly prepared me for research, graduate school, and has offered knowledge that I can carry with me throughout my future endeavors.”

JoColl Burgess
Hometown: Clayton, NC
Area of research: Behavioral Neuroscience
Research mentor: Dr. Tuan Tran

“My senior thesis involves studying Alzheimer’s Disease, using a triple transgenic (3xTg-AD) mouse model. We are investigating the neurobehavioral impairments exhibited during hippocampal-dependent learning in the Morris Water Maze (MWM) and non-spatial eyeblink classical conditioning (ECC) across the lifespan, thus allowing a better understanding of disease progression in humans.”

Tucker Jack Johnson
Hometown: Gatesville, NC
Area of research: Behavioral Neuroscience
Research Mentor: Dr. Tuan Tran

“I am researching the effects of complex learning on facilitating adult hippocampal neurogenesis in a triple transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Caroline Mulhare
Hometown: Mount Airy, MD
Area of Research: Developmental Psychology
Research Mentor: Dr. Lori Curtindale

“I am currently working with Dr. Curtindale on a study that focuses on perceived mental demand in children ages six to nine.”

David Sager
Hometown: Rocky Mount, NC
Area of Research: Stress and Health
Research Mentor: Dr. Christyn Dolbier

“My senior thesis investigates relations of stress and stress management (SM) in medical students, as well as potential demographic (by sex, ethnicity, and training year) and SM technique differences. The study is also aimed at better understanding how these variables relate to SM opportunity receptivity and intent in medical students to address SM with future patients.”