Many of our students secure placements in research labs that are not part of any official summer program. Psychology faculty at institutions all around the country are actively engaged in research on a variety of topics and are often willing to supervise student volunteers over the summer.
Similar to our psych department web page, other universities have web pages with faculty bios and research interests. When searching for an internship site, start by visiting various university sites (e.g., at WMU you can go to www.wmich.edu) and locate the psychology, biopsychology, or neuroscience departmental web pages (you might have to hunt around a bit but you will find the web pages without too much trouble). On the web page, locate info about the professors’ areas of research interests and find their e-mail addresses. Try to identify as many as 20 different potential researchers; the more you identify, the more likely you are to find one who says yes!
Occasionally, some faculty may be able to pay you out of their grant funding. More often, students volunteer without compensation for these types of positions. For a list of campus funding sources that you may be eligible for to help offset your living expenses, see this page at the CCPD.
Dr. Tan’s research internship/SIP e-mail tips
1) Keep the e-mail short: No more than 2 brief paragraphs, but make sure it is very clear and comprehensive. The tone should be professional. Proofread your e-mail painstakingly before sending it.
2) Don’t send more e-mails than you can manage. (The number depends on you. Some students in the past have sent 15-30, and then another batch a week or so later etc.). Thank the researcher and reply to every email you receive, even those that turn you down. Keep a record of emails going out and coming in. If you should receive an offer, follow it up quickly. If you are not ready to commit yet, tell the researcher that you will get back in contact with a commitment by ____ (date – probably around 2 weeks would be okay). Be sure to follow this up, even if you are not taking the offer. If a researcher has been particularly generous with time, send a Thank You note – especially if not taking the offer. And definitely send a Thank You note to the researcher you will be working with!
3) It’s fine to send some e-mail inquiries that might be more generic/all-purpose in content. However, the inquiries you REALLY care about should be as personal and specific to the researcher as possible.
Tips on Writing a Letter to a Particular Researcher (Dr. Tan)
Below are my suggestions for what to include in a letter tailored to a particular researcher, although it is only a general guideline and you should adapt it to suit your particular needs. (These guidelines can be adapted for the more “generic” letter too, as well as SIP inquiries of a non-research nature):
Dear Dr./Professor/Mr./Ms. __________, (always address the person by name – do not simply send to “Dear Professor” or “To Whom It May Concern”)
INTRODUCE SELF: Give a brief personal introduction to yourself (include major/minor and your year in college, and definitely mention Kalamazoo College) and statement of your career goals.
MAKE REQUEST: Mention your interest in the researcher’s area of expertise, and ask if there are any opportunities to serve as a research assistant on any phase of the researcher’s current projects. In 1-2 sentences, explain that you are working on a senior thesis (don’t simply say Senior Individualized Project or SIP without giving them a context for it), what this entails etc. Let the researcher know that you plan to be as self-reliant and resourceful as possible, and that you would not need a lot of their time – several meetings, some replies to questions, and feedback on drafts. (Most researchers are very busy, and fearful about accepting a needy, dependent student who will drain them of their time and energy). If you can afford it, tell the researcher that you do not expect to be paid – or are willing to work for a small stipend. If you have a place nearby where you can live, mention it. If you do need financial support, I would recommend waiting until a researcher contacts you to explore those possibilities together and/or investigate if there are any possibilities at “K” College. Specify the dates that you will be free to work.
QUALIFICATIONS: List any relevant experience or qualifications:
i) Any prior experience as a research assistant? (Very helpful, but not essential: Researchers do not expect all undergraduates to have had prior experience. If you have research experience, name the professor, state research aims or questions precisely. If the work happened to culminate in conference presentations or publications, specify. If your research experience was a class research project, or a research project you did for a class, I’d recommend mentioning it after your relevant courses, not before);
ii) Relevant College courses you have taken? For a research position, definitely mention Statistics and other Quantitative courses (including Math, Calculus, etc.), Experimental Methods (if you have not taken or completed it yet, specify by when you will have done so). Also mention Psychology courses relevant to researcher’s area (for example: if researcher is studying communication in families with an autistic child, relevant courses may include Developmental
Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Interviewing and Narrative Analysis, etc. Usually no need to mention General Psychology.)
iii) If there is anything else you can think of that is of central relevance to the researcher’s area (e.g., for the hypothetical example in point ii): if you have a sibling with special needs, or if you have experience working with individuals with autism, etc. Otherwise, just skip).
iv) End by saying that the researcher may contact Dr. _____ at ______ (give both e-mail address and telephone #) for a recommendation (be sure to ask your Professor first). Personally, I prefer to be contacted by e-mail in order to avoid playing phone tag. But you might ask your Professor how he or she prefers to be contacted.
SIGN OFF: Include full name, e-mail, telephone (and best way and times to reach you).
Some examples of internship e-mails that have resulted in the acquisition of successful SIP internship sites are shown below (used by permission):
My name is Joan Smith, and I am a junior psychology major at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, MI. I am interested in becoming integrally involved in a research project for the summer months. The research you’ve been conducting on (insert the general area of research) intrigues me, and I am wondering if you could use a research assistant in your lab. Though I would gladly accept a paid position, it is not a requirement. If you do not have a need for a research assistant, but know of others in a similar field that may, I would appreciate it if you could pass my name along.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to hearing from you.
My name is John Doe and I am a third year psychology major at Kalamazoo, College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Upon graduating in Spring of 2008, I intend to enroll in a graduate level program to further my current studies eventually entering academia as a researcher.
I am very interested in research that you are conducting about familial risk in relation to a child’s socio-emotion development. In my Social Development class we have been talking about the influences of family on a child’s development and ability to move on to school, and I am very interested in looking at this further.
This summer I will begin working on my senior project, and I am seeking the guidance of an experienced researcher pursuing research in the areas of developmental psychology. I am writing to inquire if you have any opportunities to serve as a research assistant during the summer of 2007. Though funding is appreciated, I am able to provide myself with housing and a stipend through my school and therefore do not need any kind of additional funding through your lab. I am self-motivated and a quick learner; able to work independently while upholding my responsibilities. I have had experience as a research assistant during the summer of 2006 when I worked with Dr. Barbara Schneider, John A. Hannah Distinguished Chair of the College of Education at Michigan State University. With her guidance, I studied the differences between rural schools and suburban schools in regards to a student’s academic aspirations and outcomes. I am presenting our paper at the American Education Research Association National Conference this coming April.
As a psychology major, I have taken the necessary course work to be a useful and efficient research assistant, including Abnormal, Developmental, and Social Development Psychology, Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods, Calculus, and Experimental Methods, a seminar outlining research methods in modern day psychology. I am proficient with SPSS and large-scale data sets, including the National Educational Longitudinal Survey of 1988 and the Educational Longitudinal Survey of 2002.
You may contact my advisor, Dr. at email@example.com for recommendations.
I appreciate your consideration in this matter and look forward to speaking with you. I can be contacted most easily at or at (insert phone #) and (PO Box #) Hicks Center, 1200 Academy St., Kalamazoo, MI.