Being a science major, there’s somewhat of an expectation and pressure to join a lab during your undergraduate career. Lab work looks good on any science related resume and is very much recommended if you’re considering medical or graduate school. But, joining a laboratory can often be intimidating, especially if you’re new to college.
Approaching a professor may seem daunting. But the reality is, professors love when students communicate their academic interests and are enthusiastic to find ways to help you pursue research. For example, last week the Psychology and Brain Sciences Department held an open house showcasing a few of the psychology and neuroscience labs happening on campus. Now, although I am a science major, the idea of researching never really appealed to me. I like social environments, and working in a laboratory always seemed to be the antithesis of that. But after attending the open house, I realized my perception of lab work was completely wrong.
The first lab we observed was the infant cognition lab. Here, different infants are brought in by their mothers and are shown a few different animals in the form of puppets. These puppets perform different actions that are considered either positive or negative. The lab essentially tests whether the infant's reaction indicates that he or she is able to distinguish between the animals and identify which performed good or bad actions. Professor Erik Cheries runs this lab, and if you’re interested in developmental psychology, this is definitely the lab for you.
There was another really interesting developmental psychology laboratory called the Learning Lab conducted by Professor Jennifer McDermott. In this lab, elementary-age children are brought in and perform a series of difficult tasks involving building blocks. The children are then told different stereotypes that may or may not apply to them. The lab sees if these stereotypes have any effect on their performance of the task as well as their answers on a series of questions relating to gender roles. If the effects of psychological priming entice you, I recommend getting involved in this lab.
There were a good amount of neuroscience laboratories as well. One involved the difference in perception of your right and left eye, and by extension the left and right side of your brain. Another looks at brain wave patterns using an electroencephalogram. These labs allow you to take a deep look into the inner workings of the mind.
Being in a lab is not an isolating experience. The labs I looked at require collaboration with fellow research assistants and communication with test subjects. They also provide a pathway to gain real world knowledge outside of the classroom. No matter what your future path is, lab work has something to offer. I can’t wait to get involved.