Did you miss UBC Psychology’s Reddit AMA this September 6? Don’t worry! We have compiled the highlights of the frequently asked questions.
Dr. Lily May:
You can absolutely participate (volunteer/work) in UBC research labs after graduation! I think that is pretty common. Many folks take a few years after undergrad to gather additional experience before applying for graduate school.
As for whether letters need to be from research supervisors– if you are applying to a research-based graduate program, they will likely want to know about your research experience, so having most (or at least some) of the letters from people who can speak to that is useful. But it’s fairly common to have 1 or so of the letters be from an academic source (ie, a prof whose class you did well in). Also to say– it’s *incredibly* common to feel underprepared after graduating from university! You are not alone at all.
My big advice is to not feel as though you have to rush into a graduate school program. Spend some time getting that experience– it’ll both help your applications, and help you be sure that the graduate path is really what you are interested in.
Hi there! First off, congrats on entering your final year of university! Applying to grad school, and especially to clinical psychology programs, can feel like a daunting task. Many (if not most) students take time to work and do research between undergrad and grad school. You can absolutely work as a research assistant in various labs without being a student! If you aren’t too busy this semester and next, it might also help to volunteer part-time in some research labs before you graduate. This way you can get a sense of what research is like, whether you enjoy it, and build your CV a little before you apply for a research assistant or research coordinator position after graduation. UBC has also just created a course specifically for getting research experience (PSYC 240). I don’t know too much about this course, but this webpage has a bit more information (https://psych.ubc.ca/news/psyc240-research-experience/)!
In addition to the advice above, I’d suggest thinking about what kind of experience you *do* have, and whether you’ve considered programs in Counseling Psychology (e.g., https://ecps.educ.ubc.ca/counselling-psychology/).
Consider whether a minor is essential. Perhaps you can craft your own custom set of courses to supplement your degree. STAT and DSCI are excellent starts! I’d also recommend upper level WRDS courses to get some writing practice and feedback (their courses are designed to empower you to write within your discipline, whichever that may be). You might also be interested in some INFO (Information Studies) courses. I’m offering these ideas because I minored in something just for the sake of it (Human Resources Management), because I thought I should, but instead I missed out on taking a lot of cool courses for interest! But other folks might have different advice here, so I’m curious to read what others have to say 🙂
Dr. Lily May:
I think it’s a bit difficult to answer without knowing what type of graduate program you are interested in! (And you might not know yet either– which is totally okay!). For some fields, that focus on stats could be super useful, but if you are wanting a Psych research program you might want the research experience the Honours program can bring. To be honest, I don’t think exactly what you major/minor in has a *huge* impact on future success either way. Take classes you are interested in, stay engaged, do well in them, and make connections. Those can be classes in anything!
Joyce Lai: As Lily mentioned, it would depend on the graduate program you are considering applying towards. Although I do not know the requirements for a STAT/DSCI minor, you may find it more useful to register in individual courses you are interested in to supplement your major without the minor designation. The same can be said for the Honours program! Besides the Honours seminars, students outside of the Honours program are able to register in PSYC 312A and PSYC 359 which are courses required for Honours students. This might give you more flexibility to register in the courses you find useful to prepare for grad school.
Although I don’t know the specifics of the program, I will say that in my opinion if you don’t get into the program I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. It’s very competitive to get in - so much so that I would not have been admitted to UBC’s Honours program when I was an undergraduate and i think I turned out OK (got into a great graduate program, and got hired and promoted twice by UBC). While I think the program is good, it is not itself some gatekeeper or litmus of future success in the field.
You definitely shouldn’t be worried about it right now, in the slightest. You can only apply for the Honours program towards the end of your second year, and the application is quite straightforward. It asks you about why you want to pursue the program, but does not require you to have previous research experience. However, if you do want to start getting involved in research, it’s never too early! I was an RA in the Centre for Cognitive Development in my first year, and I learned a lot about data collection, how a lab functions, presenting at conferences, and more. It was really fun, and very helpful in giving me an understanding of the research field and whether I wanted to continue in it. If you are excited about volunteering in the lab, you can apply for positions now itself - but there is absolutely no need to be worried about it, especially in your first year! Many undergraduate students start volunteering in labs in their second year, or even in their third or fourth years (sometimes directly through the Honours program).
I co-direct the psych honours program at UBCV, and I would say that while it’s great to be thinking that you might want to get into the honours program, you certainly don’t need to worry! Essentially, for better or worse grades are important in the honours program application, particularly 217/218 grades. In addition, we ask for a bit of a narrative about why you want to enter the program, so thinking about that will be helpful as well. We also hold interviews for about half our applicants (in the second round) and are interested in what research people are interested in and what research experience they have had (if any), so if you can do some volunteering in labs in your first or second year that would be great. Finally, I will agree with Andy – the honours program is designed to essentially teach psych students how to go into research/graudate school/beyond in psychology, and there are a lot of benefits to the student, like really being taught how to write and to give presentations. BUT, these are skills that students could acquire elsewhere, and you should not consider the program as an essential part of, say, a graduate school application.
No reason to be worried! You still have plenty of time to prepare and figure out if you are interested in applying for the Honours program in your second year. Depending on your future plans, you can use this time to figure out if Honours is a good fit for you. For your first year, you can start with taking the introductory psyc courses, PSYC 101 and PSYC 102, to meet the requirements to be registered in PSYC 217 and PSYC 218 which are required for admission into the Honours program. Another thing to keep in mind for first year BA students interested in majoring in psychology, they will need at least 27 credits completed by May to be promoted into second year and declare their major. Even if you don’t end up pursuing the Honours program, there are many opportunities to gain research experience at UBC, whether through volunteering as an RA or directed studies.
Just to add to everyone else’s amazing points, I had not thought about honours until about a month before the application was due and I still got in. Although it is great to consider earlier if what the honours program offers is a good choice for you and prepare some research experience or focus on your grades if you can, it should by no means be a cause of worry for you in first year. I would recommend getting started by doing some research on the program and maybe talking to some individuals about their experience in honours and then if you think you will learn from this program, focus on your grades and seek out research opportunities if you can. Good luck!
You are not alone in this feeling. Note that depending on what you are seeking to do next, the experience in ‘data handling and practical research’ that you gained from PSYC 217 and 218 might be exactly what you need to get started. Don’t discount the skills you learned there 🙂 If you’re looking for more research experience beyond that, think about what kind. If you’re looking to apprentice in a lab, you might consider seeking a volunteer position either inside psychology or beyond it (think kinesiology, sociology, marketing, education). If you are looking to develop research skills more broadly defined, look at the courses you’re taking: which ones are offering you chances to do things like develop research proposals, write literature review papers, work in groups to synthesize and present research? You might also look outside psychology for these opportunities, such as upper level WRDS courses. Hope that helps!
It’s certainly not too late to get research experience, and many students don’t start until their 4th year (or even after they graduate). If you are asking about research experience because you would like to go to graduate school, then I would say no, there is not a way to do it outside of working in a lab, at least in terms of what prospective supervisors want to see on applications. Hope that helps!
I think it is a common experience for most people to feel they have not been able to gain a lot of research experience especially with the limitations of the Covid-19 pandemic. If you are still able to, I would recommend looking into a directed studies opportunity for your last year/term as soon as you can as that is one of the best ways to gain really hands-on research experience. Also, make sure to check lab websites for updates on hiring and email the PIs/labs you are interested in working in. Even if they are not hiring at the moment, they will remember your persistence and passion for the lab once they start hiring again. Also, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity (UBC URO) club is a great way to hear about research opportunities or learn about research from their mentorship program. Opportunities will come up throughout the year, just keep your eye out for them. Don’t forget that you can also gain more experience once you graduate. You can even still do a summer Work-Learn one term after your graduation in May! Best of luck!
Sometimes it can be important to have had a position in someone’s lab before, such as a volunteer. So if you are interested in a DS in the future, you might invest in a role this term to get to know that faculty member, including how they run their DS offerings.
Great question. My first bit of advice is to spend time figuring out what area of psychology interests you most. Then, read the lab profiles and fac profiles in those areas. Make a list of the top descriptions you read and send a cold email to the prof expressing your interest in some aspect of their work and inquire about joining the lab as a research assistant. We expect cold emails but it always helps to help your email stand out by saying something about their research that you enjoyed reading/learning about.
Awesome question! If you have the opportunity, definitely recommend getting to know the professor beforehand in your target lab by attending their courses (if it’s in your interest/specialty) or vagabonding a class. Approaching professors during office hours can be intimidating, but certainly worth it for building rapport. Some of the more on-demand labs on campus I know of require you do a volunteer RA-ship first, as usually labs’ paid positions are offered to volunteers who have worked with them in the past.
While your chance of the faculty member agreeing to supervise you as a DS student may be higher if they know who you are, please don’t be shy to send a proposal to someone who you think may be a good fit for your project. I have taken on both students I knew with unclear ideas about what their topic might be, and students I didn’t know but who had a well-developed DS topic area. Both groups proved fantastic so far.
Yes to everything mentioned above! Labs differ in their preference for students who have volunteered with them in the past or have previous research experience so they often will include information on how to join their lab on the website. You can browse through the list of labs on the website to take a look at the different projects and research being conducted at each lab to see if it aligns with your interests and see if they are currently open to accepting directed studies students.
Wow, good for you taking the reins on all UBC has to offer and more. And yes this does indeed sound like a lot. Think about what you might release, and at what point, and to whom (with care and compassion for their priorities and balancing act too). You might prepare to trade off the quality of your performance in some of these roles at various times in the term, and be up front with your teammates about that. A long time ago I scrapped to-do lists in favour of Time Blocking, and perhaps you could give that to help keep on top of everything (e.g., see https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/12/12/throw-out-your-to-do-list-fix-your-calendar-double-your-productivity/?sh=43681dfa49f2 ).
The struggle for time management never goes away 🙂 I think it’s totally common for many first and second year students to explore a variety of activities on and off campus (work, lab, club, etc). My suggestion would be to reflect on what you explored and gradually narrow down and focus on the things you are really interested in. For example, some people might try out a part-time job and figure that they are not interested in going into industry. Some people might try out a research lab and learn that they are interested in doing research but maybe not on this specific topic, etc. You are totally not required to excel in every possible direction (get a job, work in a lab, have leadership position, etc). Once you find your passion or vaguely know what you want to do in the future, you can start focusing on the things that would help you succeed in the path you want to follow!
Awesome work in growing to all of these positions and congratulations on your RA-ship! Second year is definitely the time for trying out all UBC has to offer, though I do recommend doing a review of all your positions and your course load in preparation for next term and beyond. Think about the benefits of each position and the value it holds not only in current experience, but also in growth as you continue with your undergraduate years. Which positions do you see yourself growing into, where will each organization take you by the end of fourth year, and is that a path that suits your interests? Quantity versus quality of experiences is incredibly valuable when it comes to time management, even for the social aspects of undergraduate life.
Hello hello! First of all, congratulations on your RA-ship and being one of the executives in a student-run club! It sounds like you have many things on your plates currently. From my personal experiences, I usually take some time to focus on creating my daily schedule and reflecting on what is most important to me. If things become too overwhelming for me, I might drop a course or two to make a room for myself to breath and have time to regroup with myself after a long day at school and work. I definitely agree with what Kateryna said that quantity versus quality is valuable. Additionally, you also want to find yourself enjoying things that you are doing while having a good time with your undergraduate degree as well!
I love all the others’ tips. That does sound like a lot, but only you will know whether you can manage it - and sometimes you won’t know until you try it. One thing you could keep in mind to help you feel less anxious is that you are not committing to all of this forever - i.e. you will not be stuck. For example, you could leave a role or even drop a course if something doesn’t feel at the top of your priority list, and one of the best ways to know what that priority list looks like is to give it a whirl and see what’s floating to the top and what’s starting to sink to the bottom of your time and interests. Many students end up taking longer to finish their undergrad despite thinking they will finish in 4 years; many find other things that they enjoy doing during this time (for instance, I was working at 2 research labs and was liking that so I made more time for it). One important point to add to all this: above all, prioritize your physical and mental well-being. This includes social time and doing things you love to unwind. It will help you set up a healthy -- and sustainable in the long term -- time-management pattern, and help avoid burnout.
I’ll be honest - You definitely have a lot on your plate! I can relate as I once was a part of three labs, one club, and took 4 courses per term. The best tip that I have is to organize your schedule and calendars as best as you can so that you can make the best use of your limited time and be as efficient as possible. I personally use Google Calendar and the Reminders app on my phone a lot to keep track of all my tasks. I’ve also heard a lot of great things about Notion.
During my final two years of undergrad, I realized that taking 5 courses per term is quite hard especially with other commitments such as lab and club work. I decided to take only 4 courses per term as well as summer courses to ease my load during the winter, as well as an extra year of undergrad. This could be something for you to consider. I also suggest making a priority list of your commitments and being honest with yourself on what you should take and what you can afford sacrificing. For me, I prioritized my research work, academics, and mental health by limiting my social circle to only seeing a few close friends regularly. Your priority list might look different but you need to be honest with yourself. Having a few things that you’re great at is better than having a lot of things that you’re not so great at. For you, I would also suggest trying to find paid work as a research assistant/coordinator/lab manager so that you can save time by having research experience and getting paid at the same time. I encourage you to frequently look on CareersOnline UBC as job openings pop up every now and then, or apply for a Work Learn/Undergraduate Research Assistant award with your psychology lab if possible. Sometimes lab directors are willing to pay you for your research if they see that you’re passionate and committed to their research - The first step you would need to take is simply ask if they would consider offering you a paid position 🙂
Dr. Jay: Cold emails are definitely OK. In my experience, the “hit rate” (emails that get you a reply) are higher than you might think. I think reaching out via email is a great way to start building those connections; there are other ways, e.g. going to conferences, but they usually require existing connections and spending money. Best of luck, and get emailing!
Dr. Hamlin: Yes to cold emails! One thing that is really important is that you NOT send an email that looks like it could have been copy pasted to many different profs at once. You should tailor each email to the professor and their research, and explain why your experiences and goals make you a great fit for their lab. The more specific you can be (keeping the email to several paragraphs at most) the better; for instance, mentioning a recent paper from their lab that really resonated with you and raised X or Y question in your mind.
Dr. May: It feels weird, but cold emails are totally how it’s done! Profs are very used to it. To help, make sure you check their websites (and/or the department’s website) to see if that particular prof is accepting students. You would also want to be familiar with their specific research– if you can mention some papers/lines of research and *why* you are interested in that particular work, that helps a lot.
Dr. Braon: I agree with what others have said. Further, if you are unsure of whether what you’ve written is appropriate, feel free to email me and I can provide some feedback before you send it (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you would like to look through the entire AMA from both this year and previous years follow the links below.
By Khushi Mehta