Graduate School and Professional Development

Participating in this lab provides you with a unique opportunity to gain valuable skills that will be invaluable for getting a job and/or getting into graduate school. In the workplace, skills such as taking the initiative, working independently, and demonstrative motivation and personal responsibility can be hard to find. This is why these skills are highly valued by employers and graduate programs. Future employers and graduate school admissions committees will expect you to have good grades and good GRE scores; however, having research skills, work skills, and a good recommendation letter can set you apart from other candidates. Your ability to develop these skills will figure prominently in my recommendation letters for graduate school and other careers. Also, individuals that excel in demonstrating these skills will have the opportunity to be selected for the Lab Coordinator position. How much of these skills you develop in the lab are up to you.

Tracking your professional development: Keeping a Curriculum Vitae

Curriculum Vitae loosely translates into "life's work" and is essentially a more detailed resume. All research assistants are expected to create and maintain a Vita to track your experiences in the lab. When in doubt put it on your vita; you can always edit it later. Also, be sure to write detailed descriptions with dates because you may forget these details down the road when you are applying for a job or to graduate school (see Creating a Vita help files on the Psychology Department website).

Examples of items to put on your vita:

  • Skills developed (e.g., data entry with SPSS, data coding, running empirical studies, researching skills, etc.)
  • Research projects you have worked on
  • Conference presentations
  • General experience (e.g., mentoring, taking leadership role on projects, lab coordinator)

Taking the initiative

This is a skill that is hard to find in the workplace. When you are working in the lab, think about ways to enhance the lab, ways to make things more efficient, think of potential problems and deal with them before they become problems, develop your own ideas, etc. In general, try to take on a role in the lab as if it was your lab. What would you do to make it work better? What can you do to get the job done efficiently and effectively?

Independence and taking responsibility

You are, of course, not expected to know how to do everything when you come into the lab and you will get guidance from me and others in the lab, nonetheless, you are expected to become self-sufficient over time. As with taking the initiative, developing the ability to work independently without the need of constant oversight is a cherished skill in the workplace. In the classroom, students often become complacent, expecting the teacher to tell them what to do and when to do it. This often leads students to rely on the teacher to constantly remind them of when assignments are due and to expect the teacher to be accommodating when students "forget" about deadlines and responsibilities. Even in coursework, many students do the bare minimum necessary to get the grade they want. Unfortunately, this mentality carries over into the workplace. Teachers and employers alike cherish those students/employees that do their work on time and do their work well, without the need for constant oversight. Realize that you are an adult now and that you are responsible for the duties you take on.

In addition to general independence and responsibility, you have the opportunity to become more independent in your research over time. Don't expect me to tell you when it is time for you to do an independent project. You should tell me. You should be thinking ahead and planning how you will take advantage of this experience. Again, your ability to demonstrate this independence will be reflected in your recommendation letters.

Working well with others

Another skill that is highly valued in the workplace is the ability to work well with others. One way you can demonstrate this skill is by offering other members of the lab to help with their research projects. Also, when you do provide this help show respect and responsibility by completing tasks on time and by doing a good job. Finally, realize that you will not always like everyone you work with in life. This being said, your ability to move past potential conflicts is yet another important skill that employers will value.

Graduate School

Good grades and good GRE scores are very important for getting into graduate school; however, experience conducting and presenting research can be invaluable in demonstrating your level of preparedness for graduate work and set you apart from other applicants. The Psychology Department website has great resources for helping you prepare for and apply to graduate school.


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