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Research Opportunities

The Institute of Child Development offers many options for undergraduate students to engage in research. From volunteering, to receiving academic credits, to paid positions, to the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, there is a research experience that will fit your interests.

Working in a research lab is a great way to gain practical research experience, build career skills, and develop a personal relationship with a child psychology faculty member.

“I plan to apply to Clinical Psychology programs [and] research experience is an extremely important component of any graduate program application, so my experiences have allowed me to be a strong candidate in this process. The research I have done within ICD has been invaluable as it has pushed me to realize my potential as a researcher.” – Tori Siminec

Directed Research Experience

Research assistant responsibilities

During directed research, a student works as a Research Assistant (RA) for a lab within the Institute of Child Development. Depending on the lab, RAs do various tasks such as:

  • Coding and tabulating data;
  • Scheduling and confirming appointments;
  • Sitting with siblings during research experiments;
  • Performing library research;
  • Assisting with or running research participant interviews; and
  • Assisting in planning and carrying out studies.

Registration Instructions

How to register for CPsy 4994 Directed Research

You are responsible for finding a research experience. Most labs will have contact information or directions listed on their lab web pages with more information about how to apply.

  1. Explore research laboratories in ICD to find a lab fitting your research interest. You may also find recently posted positions in the “News” section.
  2. Contact the laboratory to find out if undergraduate RA positions are currently available and complete their onboarding process (the process varies depending on the lab).
  3. Work with the lab coordinator or faculty member to establish a work schedule and complete a directed research contract. The contract clarifies expectations and mutual responsibilities. To register, a signed copy of the research contract must be submitted to Meghan Allen Eliason, who will issue you a permission number.
  4. Determine the number of credits you will pursue with the lab coordinator or faculty member. Each credit should represent 45 hours per semester. A maximum of 4 credits is allowed per semester with a total of 8 credits overall.
  5. If you want your directed research credit to count toward the child psychology major, it must be taken for a letter grade.


You have until the end of the 2nd week of the semester to receive a class permission number from the research lab. After that time, you will need to petition through your college office to add the course.

To register for field study credits after the 2nd week of the semester and before the end of the 10th week of the semester bring the directed research contract, signed by your lab coordinator and the child psychology departmental adviser (Meghan Allen Eliason) to 16 Johnston Hall and you will receive a class permission number.

After the 10th week of the semester, you may still register for the class, however, you will need to petition through your college advising office to add the course. This requires you to complete an Academic Policy Petition and have it signed by advising office staff. You will need to submit the petition and the Directed Research Contract to One Stop and they will register the course for you.


Your directed research experiences may be used to complete an honors requirement. Please speak with your University Honors Adviser for more information about your University Honors Program requirements.

Hear more from current students and alumni

Tayler Loiselle, Class of 2016, B.S. in Child Psychology, Minor in Public Health
Yonas Lab

I started my directed research experience fall semester of my junior year. The previous summer, I had worked at a summer camp for kids and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and it sparked an interest for Autism research. I emailed my Child Psychology advisor and asked if he knew any faculty at the time who were conducting research with an Autism focus. He told me about a professor he knew who was interested in Autism research. I sent that professor an email inquiring about getting involved in directed research through his lab and he accepted!

I have been involved in research in the Yonas Visual Perception Lab directed by Dr. Albert Yonas for about 2 semesters and an entire summer and will continue through my senior year. Right now we are working on a project involving depth perception development in infants. In addition, we have two projects currently involving individuals with Autism. One of them is exploring a new method using prism glasses to help performance on visual tasks and the other is a facial and emotional recognition video game we are developing with a professor at University of Minnesota-Duluth.

As a directed research student, our lab is special because undergraduate students are given a lot of unique opportunities that most wouldn't otherwise get. They are in charge of calling/scheduling participants, running participants, and helping in analyzing data. Being involved in research is extremely fun and rewarding and I hope everyone gets a chance to try it during their undergraduate careers.

This upcoming fall, I will be involved in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. I encourage everyone to try this amazing program. You can either create your own study or work on a professor's study. You then work under the supervision of the professor in the area you are interested in and the school will provide you with a financial reward to do so. You then have the opportunity to present your research and findings at the end of the semester. My UROP study is on 3-D vision development in infants.

I am planning to later go on to become a licensed K-12 School Counselor. My directed research experience has had a huge impact on this decision because it made me realize how much I love working closely with children and parents! My experience helped me to learn how to feel comfortable working with people as well as other important life skills.

Tori Siminec, Class of 2015, B.S. in Psychology, Minors in Child Psychology and Statistics
Gunnar Lab

I started my directed research during the Summer after my Freshman year. I got involved after I sought out a faculty member who was researching something I found interesting.

I have been involved in several labs in ICD for a total of over 6 semesters; I am currently involved in the Gunnar lab as well as the Karatekin Lab. In the Gunnar lab, we are interested in how early life stress impacts development later in life, particularly through adolescence. Projects in the Karatekin lab have a similar focus in that we are interested in how early life trauma impacts the college student population.

I have been involved in everything from developing a research question, to hands-on data collection with participants, to data analysis and writing a manuscript. I was able to complete a UROP project during my junior year, and I have presented at several research conferences throughout the country including NCUR in Washington State, SRHD in Texas and at Boynton Clinic here on campus as a part of continuing education for the staff there. It's always exciting when hard work presents an opportunity to travel!

I graduated in spring 2015; I am currently employed full-time in the Gunnar Lab and have continued to be involved in the Karatekin Lab as well. I plan to apply to Clinical Psychology programs for fall 2016. Research experience is an extremely important component of any graduate program application, so my experiences have allowed me to be a strong candidate in this process. The research I have done within ICD has been invaluable as it has pushed me to realize my potential as a researcher.

Elise Erkens, Class of 2016, B.A. in Child Psychology
Gunnar Lab

I began my directed research in the fall of 2014, my first semester at the U of M. I did this as a second semester Junior after transferring to the U of M. I got involved with directed research after hearing about an opportunity in the Gunnar Lab from an in-class presentation. I emailed the lab and got connected with [a lab coordinator] who helped me to find what would work best for me in their particular lab.

I was involved in directed research for only one semester, but the following semester I took a job in the lab working as a recruiter for one of the graduate student's research project. In my directed research position I worked on a research project for Elisa Esposito. The project looked at the effectiveness of theory of mind practices in young children. While working on this project I got to input the data from each of the participants’ files, which familiarized me with the types of assessments they underwent and the overall process of data entry, in general. I also was able to look at brain waves that were collected from the study and was trained to identify noise, blinks, and abnormal readings.

I also learned how to prepare a UROP proposal in my research methods course and was able to get a better understanding of the global picture of a research opportunity and all of the details that go into it.

I am working toward becoming a child life specialist and would ideally like to work in a pediatric oncology hospital. The research I've done will definitely help me to understand and interpret the findings that others in my field present, as well as help me to be prepared in case I should desire to do research of my own.

Directed Research Experience

Hear from students:

Want to see more? Check out what students are saying about directed research, field study, learning abroad, and their careers after graduation.


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Directed Research Contract