Please note that Dr. Duncan is not recruiting new graduate students for Fall 2021
Is graduate school in Psychology right for me?
This is a big, personal question that requires extensive research and self-reflection. These are a few points to consider when making decisions about pursuing a research-based Ph.D.
Graduate school is less focused on classes and more on hands on research
Getting research experience before graduate school will help you determine whether you’ll like research and prepare to excel as a graduate student
You don’t need to know exactly what you want to study, but it’s good to have a rough idea
Consider your financial situation before applying to graduate school and plan accordingly
A PhD increases your employment prospects but doesn’t guarantee them
Tips for Applying to Graduate School
Here are a few tips on how to put your best foot forward when applying to a research-based Ph.D. program in psychology. Please note that some of these tips are personal opinions, and that it’s always good to seek advice from multiple perspectives. You can also find more details about applying to our program here: https://www.psych.utoronto.ca/prospective-graduate-students/about-our-tri-campus-graduate-program
Pick potential graduate schools based on labs, not just programs
Many (but not all) professors like you to email them in advance of submitting an application
Be sure to list potential supervisors in your application and explain why you are interested in working with them
We make exceptions for some admission requirements.
Statements should not be modest but should be concrete
Situate your research in terms of questions and conclusions, not just implementation
But also highlight technical skills that you’ve gained through research
Your statement is a writing sample
Interviews are a two-way street
Undergraduate Research Positions
Please note that the Duncan Lab is not currently recruiting new research assistants
If you are interested in applying for a research assistant position, please send this completed research assistant application along with your CV/resume and unofficial transcript to our manager at firstname.lastname@example.org
Undergraduate student researchers are instrumental in our discoveries. They often are the ones recruiting participants, and who collect the high-quality data used to answer questions about memory. They have also contributed to the development of new software, experiments, and analytical tools in the lab. Students who have demonstrated an abundance of commitment and aptitude have led their own research projects.
Getting involved in research as an undergraduate student is a fantastic decision! You meet people with similar interests to you, often forging long-lasting connections and friendships. You learn first-hand that science is a process—requiring large doses of creativity and critical thinking—not a collection of facts to memorize. For example, you will be encouraged to attend weekly lab meetings, where ongoing research projects, relevant research articles, and methods are discussed. You will aslo receive the type of direct mentorship that isn’t possible in the classroom, and getting to know a professor well can help you obtain the letters of recommendation that are often required down the road. Importantly, you can also acquire the skills involved in the process of science, which will make you more competitive for graduate programs and jobs outside of academia. Accordingly, our undergraduate students have done quite well after leaving the lab, landing positions in highly competitive graduate programs (both research and clinical), medical school, and industry (e.g., Google, Bloomberg).
Types of Undergraduate Positions
Check here for more information about our Volunteer Positions
This is the most common way for students to get their first research experience in the lab and in the department. They require a commitment of at least 8h/week for at least one semester, but we prefer that students be involved in the lab for longer to make the most of the opportunity. Individuals outside of the University of Toronto are also welcome to apply, especially during the summer.
Volunteer researchers usually work with a senior lab member (graduate students, postdocs, a lab manager, or senior undergraduate student). Initial responsibilities generally include helping with literature reviews, participant recruitment and testing, experimental stimulus development, and data entry/organization. We also welcome volunteers with computer science/statistics/engineering backgrounds. They usually work on projects that involve coding (e.g., experiment building, data analysis, tool development) rather than data collection. Direct supervisors will provide relevant reading material and meet with volunteers to help them understand the ins and outs of the research question, the background which motivated it, and how the methods are designed to answer the question.
As volunteers demonstrate their commitment and aptitude, they may be given the option to gain more independence and diverse experience. For example, while volunteers usually start by testing healthy young adults on computerized tasks or recording eye movements, as they gain experience they may become involved in the collection of neuroimaging data, or the testing of older adults or children. They also may get involved in data analysis (which involves learning to code in R), experiment building (which usually involves learning Python-based tools, Eyelink, or Inquisit), and experiment design (which involves a deep understanding of psychology theories and research methods).
We receive more applications for these positions than we can accommodate so it is a competitive process.
Here’s what we look for in an applicant:
Students with no prior research experience will be considered, but prior experience is an asset because it lets us know that you know what you’re signing up. It also suggests that you have good organizational, time-management, communication, and interpersonal skills. If you do not have any prior research experience, you should explain you have demonstrated these skills in your prior work/volunteer experience.
Interest and aptitude can be demonstrated through achieving strong grades in prior relevant coursework. Relevant coursework includes not just psychology classes, but other areas in the cognitive sciences, particularly computer science and neuroscience. Although grades are not a perfect predictor of research aptitude, achieving a minimum of a 3.5 cGPA generally reflects a commitment to and solid comprehension of relevant material along with good organizational skills. Undergraduate students in the lab tend to have GPAs above 3.7, but there are exceptions! We understand that there may be reasons for lower grades, and we will take explanations into account during the application process. In particular, we look favorably on transcripts that show an upward trajectory.
Interest and aptitude can also be demonstrated through a thoughtful application. Students who have read papers from the lab and have interesting things to say about them stand out. Students who have a deeply thought out interest in cognitive psychology and memory (i.e., don’t just state that they are interested in these topics but can clearly articulate why they are so interested) are also given priority.
Your commitment can be indicated by describing what you have to gain from the position – how will what you do in the lab help you to achieve your long-term goals?
Communication skills can be demonstrated through the quality of application writing (e.g., demonstrating clear thinking, not overly formal) and through the quality of discussion, if selected for an in-person interview.
Technical skills (e.g., computer programming) can be demonstrated through relevant coursework, work/volunteer experience, and the completion of online courses/training (e.g., Coursera, Code Academy)
Availability can be demonstrated by having a relatively flexible schedule. While not required for all projects, some experiments in the lab involve collecting data for complex, multi-session designs, so researcher availability is prioritized in these cases.
Check here for more information about our Work-Study Positions
We usually offer eight work-study positions per year, four with applications due in September and four with applications due in May. All full-time students are eligible for these positions and they are a fantastic way to get research experience while financing your education. Research Assistant positions involve many of the duties performed by volunteers (see above), but also include assisting the lab manager with more administrative duties. Lab Programmer positions involve working with lab members to program experiments, run analyses, or develop new tools. They also assist in website maintenance and other IT needs. As these positions are more competitive, we prioritize candidates with the most relevant prior experience, but they have been offered to applicants with no research experience in the past when they have demonstrated outstanding interest in and aptitude for our research along with relevant organizational and interpersonal skills.
There are several research courses that undergraduate students can complete in the lab. This is an excellent way to gain research experience while fulfilling your program requirements.