Participate in Research and Learn about the Science of Psychology

One of the most exciting options available to undergraduates in USC’s Psychology program is the potential to take part in cutting-edge research projects. Because USC is a leading research institution, students have many routes for involvement in innovative studies. Your coursework will provide an important component of your education at USC but we invite all students to expand their horizons by taking part in research activities outside the structured context of the classroom. Undergraduate research can also provide experiences and skills that further your career goals, help prepare you for a graduate education, and assist in clarifying your interests and academic direction. Don’t miss out on this wonderful educational opportunity!

Getting Started

We encourage students to begin their experiences with research at an early stage in their education at USC. To this end, we suggest that students complete PSYC 100, PSYC 274, PSYC 314, and PSYC 316 as soon as possible. These courses serve as critical foundation for your development as a young scientist and are requirements for many of the research options available to you.

Psych 490

Students often become formally involved in research through PSYC 490. PSYC 490 is a mentored assistantship in which an undergraduate student is paired with a faculty member and possibly doctoral students in that faculty member's lab. You will be able to join an ongoing research project and be part of a team of social scientists. As part of your PSYC 490 experience, you will also be asked to write a reflective OR research paper. Please click here for potential lab placements.

To register for PSYC 490x, a proposal form must be completed and approved in advance of registration. Proposal forms are available for download, click here, or pick up the from the department office (SGM 501).

Guidelines for applying include the completion of at least three psychology courses (including PSYC 100 and 274) and overall and psychology GPAs of 3.0. Consent of a Psychology department faculty member to supervise the research project and permission of the chair of the department are required. Meeting the guidelines is not equivalent to approval for PSYC 490x. The application must be completed, submitted, reviewed, and approved before the student is given permission to register. Students are responsible for registering for the class after the Undergraduate Advisor has given departmental permission (D-clearance).

As part of the course requirement, students will write a reflective or research paper at the end of the semester that will be graded by the supervising faculty member and turned in to the department chair by the first day of the final exam period. Ideally, you should turn in a draft of that paper with sufficient time for the faculty supervisor to provide feedback and for you to improve the paper. A facesheet for that final paper is available for download, click here, or from the department office (SGM 501).

A reflective paper can be quite short (e.g., about 4 pages long, double spaced), and should address the questions on the facesheet for the final paper. The purpose is to create a summary of the experience for the student to retain, for the faculty supervisor to read, and for the chair (or designated faculty member submitting PSYC 490 grades).If the PSYC 490 experience involved conducting a research project, the report of that research project may be submitted as the final paper. Similarly, if the PSYC 490 experience involved carrying out a literature review or writing a research proposal, those documents could be submitted. Please note! If the answers to the four questions on the facesheet for the final paper are not apparent, please add sufficient information to answer those questions: (a) a description of the student's understanding of the context of the research, a discussion of the theoretical issues, and a statement about its purpose or potential contribution; (b) a description of the student's activities; (c) an indication of what the student learned from the experience; (d) a statement indicating how much time the student invested in the various activities (and how that time corresponds with the number of credit units received).

Finally, note: students may earn a maximum total of 8 units of PSYC 490, and note: PSYC 490 does not count towards the 400 level requirement for the BA in Psychology.

Other Research Options

Beyond PSYC 490, there are many other possibilities to become part of a research project. For example, our honors program provides qualified students with intensive research supervision that culminates in a written thesis. In cooperation with the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, we also offer a number of summer research options for those who plan to be near campus during this part of the year. You will also find that the Psychology Department faculty are flexible and open to exploring different avenues for partnerships with students.

How can I identify a Faculty Member to Supervise Research?

If you have specific interests in an area of psychology, you may use our website to identify faculty who might serve as appropriate mentors. The psychology site contains faculty profiles, listing research interests, summaries of the major themes examined by researchers in the department, as well as a handy guide of undergraduate research assistant opportunities.

Your course instructors and the department advisors can also serve as valuable resources. Meet with your professors in their office hours, tell them about your interests, and they’ll help you to find potential mentors. Do not feel shy about asking for information. We want you to be involved in our research and hope you will be our partners in scientific inquiry.

To encourage and facilitate undergraduate student involvement in the production of knowledge through empirical research, the department compiles a research assistant directory that lists some of the faculty who are interested in offering undergraduates the opportunity to be involved in current investigations as research assistants on a voluntary or credit basis. If there is a faculty member whose work is particularly interesting, students should feel free to contact him or her about research opportunities even if there is no listing in the directory. Students may assist with research as a volunteer or for academic credit.

  • Department of Psychology
  • University of Southern California
  • SGM 501
  • 3620 South McClintock Ave.
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061
  • Phone: (213) 740 - 2203