What is a Research Assistantship?

Research assistants are students who are working one-on-one with faculty and graduate students in laboratories and in the field.  RAs gain firsthand experience of how findings covered in textbooks are created in the laboratory. Research experience broadens a student's background in psychology or neuroscience and can be a powerful asset when applying to graduate or professional school or when seeking employment.  Any Rutgers student can become an RA in a faculty member's lab, assisting with all aspects of the research process and learning first-hand how to conduct psychological research.

Qualifications: Any Rutgers student is eligible to work in a Psychology lab.  Although some labs have special preferences or qualifications, most require no previous research experience.  The most important requirements are: clear interest in the research, dedication, responsibility, attention to detail, and the ability to get along with others.  RAs are expected to arrive on time to their assigned lab hours, to work hard, and to follow all laboratory and IRB guidelines at all times.

Course credit: Research assistants generally earn 3 credits per semester in 491/492 Research in Psychology or 495 Research in Cognitive Neuroscience.  1 credit = ~3 hrs lab time.  

Lab Descriptions

Social Development Lab (Dr. Paul Boxer): We study the development, assessment, and treatment of aggressive and violent behaivor, with a special emphasis on the social context of violence and crime and a focus on children and youth. Undergraduate RAs typically assist with literature reviews, data management, data analysis, and the preparation of conference submissions and manuscripts when appropriate. Undergraduates will occasionally also have the chance to take part in the design of new studies. Ideally students should come into the lab with a strong interest in developmental or clinical psychology and a willingness to conduct research with children and adolescents.

Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab (Dr. Mauricio Delgado): We study how individuals process and adapt to positive and negative emotional events in their daily life and how such events shape their decisions and well-being.  We use an array of different approaches, including behavioral testing and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate questions such as:  How does the human brain process stimuli that carry positive or negative value (e.g., rewards and punishments)? How do we use this information to make decisions and guide behavior? And how do we control or regulate our emotions to cope with social and environmental demands?  

Undergraduate research assistants will work with other lab members at all stages of research: from preparation and programming of experimental paradigm, to recruitment of participants, data acquisition and analysis.  There is an emphasis on recruitment and running of research participants. Undergraduate research assistants will also have the opportunity to read and discuss relevant scientific literature, attend lab meetings and present their research findings at Rutgers research week.

Language, Behavior and Brain Imaging Lab (LBBIL, Dr. William Graves): Our research focuses on cognitive neuroscience, and the neurobiology of language in particular. Recent research has focused especially on the neural mechanisms of reading. Our projects have probed how the brain translates letters and sounds into concepts and meanings and vice versa. We have expanded this line of work to reveal how neural mechanisms of reading vary in autism and aphasia following a stroke. Our research methods include behavioral and cognitive testing, computational modeling, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).  

Undergraduate research assistants will assist in recruiting for and running experiments, learn how to design and create experimental tasks, gather and analyze data, and attend weekly lab meetings. RAs must have a 3.0 GPA.  Programming skills in Linux, Python, AFNI, PsychoPy, E-Prime or R are preferred but not required.

Rutgers University Mind Brain Analysis lab (RUMBA, Dr. Stephen Hanson): Our research focuses on Learning, Attention and Memory.  We are especially interested in visual memory and categorization and the development of new memories and their similarity to other memories.  Our experiments focus both on object memory (explicit, implicit) and event (episodic) memory.   We apply computational modeling and use neuroimaging methods (fMRI, EEG) with various kinds of experiments and visual stimuli.  

RAs will be involved in organizing experiments, stimuli and subject recruiting/filtering.   RAs will run subjects in the scanner,  save their data and do preprocessing on that data using neuroimaging tools (FSL, Freesurfer etc.).  Students with more advanced skills will help model and be trained in  various types of statistical and computer modeling.  RAs should have basic statistical skills.  More advanced students should have computational skills involving script writing in languages like R or Python.  

Well-Being Lab (Dr. Samantha Heintzelman). Our research examines the experience of meaning in everyday life and the pursuit of happiness across contexts. RAs are responsible for running participant laboratory sessions following study protocol and completing a variety of other research tasks such as response coding, literature review documentation, and data preparation. RAs also meet weekly as a group with Dr. Heintzelman and graduate student mentors to discuss student-selected papers and develop research proposals on lab-relevant topics.

Child Study Center (Dr. Vanessa LoBue). We study children's emotional and perceptual development, including children's development of fear beliefs, social-emotional development, and parent-child interactions. We use a variety of research methods to answer our questions, namely behavioral studies (both observational and experimental), questionnaires, eye tracking, and some psychophysiological methods. We also use EEG to measure babies' brain activation in response to stimuli. Broadly, our research questions include: When and how do children develop certain fear beliefs? What are some early predictors of anxiety? How do children come to understand fairness and equity? How do children learn from their parents? 

RAs take on a broad range of tasks in our lab, many of which are dependent on the research team to which they are assigned. Some tasks include: data collection with children and/or parents, participant recruitment and community outreach, data processing tasks such as transcribing, coding, and analyzing data, and creating study stimuli.  Fluency in Spanish is a plus!  For more information, contact cscrutgers[at]gmail.com

Memory and Computational Cognition Lab (Dr. Kimele Persaud)Memory is important for everything that we do – how we make decisions, how we learn, and how we explore the world around us! As such, our lab is interested in understanding how we recall information from memory. We explore a number of questions including: how does our prior knowledge and expectations about the world shape what we remember? How does knowledge and memory differ across culture, age, and expertise? And why are certain kinds of information better remembered than others? To address these questions, we use a combination of in-person and online studies along with computational models of memory. We test a wide variety of participant populations, including adults, children, cultural groups, and experts in a number of domains.

RAs in our lab work collaboratively with graduate students and postdoc mentors. They assist in conducting literature reviews, data collection, data coding and analyses, and manuscript preparation. RAs are expected to attend weekly lab meetings where they discuss research papers and provide updates and feedback on on-going lab projects.  RAs will also have the opportunity to develop practical skills for conducting research as well as practice giving presentations. Exceptional RAs will be invited to pitch their own research projects as well as learn computer programming (e.g., MATLAB, Python). Prior experience working in a research lab, working with children, and computer programming are a plus!

Rutgers Implicit Cognition Lab (RISC, Dr. Luis Rivera): Our research investigates implicit biases, beliefs, and attitudes, and how they affect the self and identity of individuals from stigmatized and disadvantaged groups. Studies examine how biases operate in different social contexts. Our general research questions of interest are: What social contexts motivate groups and individuals to express stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination, and to develop and maintain their group identities? and, How do contexts and individuals contribute to the presence and persistence of inequities in health, STEM, and the criminal justice system?

RAS will be involved in multiple aspects of collaborative research such as participant recruitment, data collection, data coding and analyses, and manuscript preparation.  In addition, research assistants will have opportunities to develop practical skills such as critical thinking and oral and written presentations, as well as develop mentor-mentee relationships with members of the RISC Lab.

Mathematics, Reasoning and Learning Lab (Dr. Miriam Rosenberg-Lee): Our research is focused on understanding why some individuals struggle to learn mathematical information, while others succeed easily. We use functional neuroimaging, laboratory and classroom studies to understand how the brain processes mathematic information and how best to teach it. We study a variety of populations, including children and adults, with diverse backgrounds and ability levels.

RAs will be responsible for assisting with data collection both online and in-person, and scoring the acquired data, and participant recruitment.  Additionally, RAs will attend biweekly lab meetings to discuss study progress and related scientific literature and methods. Students may also present their own research.  Experience working with children and/or individuals with disabilities, computer programming experience (e.g., Python, R) are a plus.

Animal Cognition Lab (Dr. Michael Shiflett): Our research uses animal models (rats and mice) to investigate the neural basis of learning and motivation.  We are particularly interested in using these models to better understand mental health disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and Addiction.   Undergraduate RAs carry out behavior experiments using animals, which includes operating behavior testing equipment, handling animals, ensuring accurate data collection, and maintaining a clean workspace.  RAs typically work together and under the supervision of a senior lab member.  RAs must be comfortable with handling rodents.  

Learning and Decision-Making Lab (Dr. Elizabeth Tricomi): Our lab investigates learning, motivation, and decision making.  We do behavioral and fMRI research.  Typically, undergraduate RAs test research participants in R-points studies, usually under the guidance of a more senior member of the lab.  These experiments often form the basis of later fMRI experiments.  Undergraduate RAs typically do 10 hours of research in the lab per week and earn 3 credits.  They also attend our lab meetings, where we present our research and discuss journal articles related to the research in the lab; RAs are expected to present once per semester in lab meeting.  Undergraduates who have previous experience in the lab can do an honors thesis in their senior year if they are eligible.  This involves devising an experiment, programming it, testing the experimental participants, analyzing the data, and writing up the results.  Facility with computers and programming ability is helpful, especially for students wishing to do an honors thesis.  Conscientiousness and the ability to get along with others are a must.