Lab courses follow a different format than typical, classroom-based courses. You will not be attending lectures and there is no final exam. In a typical lab course, you will be working in a faculty member's lab, assisting with research. Most labs will have you work set hours with a graduate student or other researcher, and many have lab meetings where you would be expected to discuss assigned readings or listen to (and possibly give) presentations about current research. Undergraduate research assistants may help with the day-to-day function of the lab, including recruiting subjects, recording, coding, and analyzing data, and helping to run and design studies. Lab courses generally require that you write a paper at the end of the semester that brings together relevant research in the area in which you are working.
All students writing a thesis must take a lab course, as well as students in the Cognitive Science (MBB) track, and the Cognitive Neuroscience & Evolutionary Psychology (Life Sciences) track if in the Class of 2014 or earlier. Non-thesis students in the Class of 2015 or later can choose to take Psy 1901 OR a Lab Course to meet their Research Methods requirement. Click here to see the Class of 2015 requirements. If you are in the General track or Cognitive Neuroscience & Evolutionary Psychology track and are not pursuing a thesis, a lab course is highly recommended, but not required. It is an excellent way to gain research experience and develop relationships with faculty, graduate students, and researchers in a lab.
In general, students in the Class of 2010 and later may count two lab courses for concentration credit. A full listing of the lab course limits is available here, including how rules apply to PSY 985. If you have reached your lab course limit, you may still enroll in a lab course and count it for college elective credit.
II. Questions about Choosing a Lab and Enrolling in a Lab Course
There is a full listing of available lab courses on the website. Each semester specific opportunities with project descriptions for lab courses are posted and you can find this information here. It is updated in the days leading up to the first day of classes on a rolling basis, so check back frequently. If a professor does not offer his or her own lab course, you may be able to earn credit for work in their lab through the general research course, Psychology 910r.
The type of work you do will vary from lab to lab, depending on the type of research you are helping to conduct. Labs generally require you to commit at least 10 hours per week (often as many as 15) and require a final paper at the end of the semester. If you are taking Psy 910r, the departmental lab course, you will need to submit an application prior to study card day to enroll, and write a 10-page research paper that relates to the work you have been doing.
For all lab courses, you must obtain permission and a signature from the instructor before you put it on your study card i.e. you cannot just shop these courses. It is best to get in touch with the professor and/or lab coordinator before the beginning of the semester, as most labs can only accommodate a limited number of research assistants.
At the beginning of every semester, the Undergraduate Office posts available research assistant positions on our website, many of which can be done for course credit. You will also find a listing of labs available through the Psychology Department website. Keep in mind that labs may not have openings for undergraduates, so it is important to reach out to them well in advance of the study card date in case you need to explore options at other labs.
Each lab at Harvard specializes in a different area of Psychology. The simplest way to see what is being done is to visit the lab website to read about their research. You may also want to search the names of the faculty members to see if their research is interesting to you. If their lab has a website, it may provide specific information on their lab course and tell you who to contact. If they do not have a contact person, you are welcome to contact the faculty member directly.
If you want to see what it's like to work in the lab without making a semester-long commitment, you might start by volunteering in the lab for a few hours a week, or even just asking permission to sit in on a few discussion groups or lab meetings. Some labs are not able to accommodate this type of request, but will most likely be willing to meet with you and show you the lab.
If the lab has posted on the Undergraduate Office research opportunities page, they will provide contact information and tell you what they are looking for from you (resume, email, etc.). If you have explored their lab site and have not found any contact information, you are welcome to reach out to the faculty member, usually via email.
In your email you should briefly introduce yourself (name, status as a Harvard undergraduate), and explain what areas of their research interest you. This means you should have done your homework and should know what work is being done in the lab. Finally, politely ask if they might have an opening for a research assistant for the coming semester, and be sure to clarify that you are seeking a lab course placement, not a paid position.
In general, faculty members are looking for people who seem interested and excited by their research, and would be dedicated research assistants. Keep that in mind when writing your email.
For specific lab courses, you can put the lab course on your study card once you have approval from the faculty and/or lab coordinator. If you are taking 910r, you will have to fill out an application, have it signed by the faculty member with whom you'll be completing the course, and then turn in to the Psychology Undergraduate Office (WJH 218). Study cards for 910r can be signed by the Undergraduate Office staff once your faculty supervisor signs the application. Your supervisor cannot sign your study card for 910r; it must be done through the Undergraduate Office. PSY 910r applications are due to WJH 218 at 4pm the day BEFORE study card day.
The type of work that an undergraduate will take on in both course levels is similar, however 1000-level lab courses have the undergraduate students meet separately, where 2000-level lab courses have the undergraduates and graduate students in the lab meet together as a group.