5 months ago
Admissions Advice

How do I get a research position with a mental health professional/specialist?

I am planning on studying Psychology/Psychiatry and mental health in university and I have no clue how to score a research position with a professor or mental health professional. Any tips? Thank you! (I think I will also perform my own research in the future!)


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1 answer

Accepted Answer
5 months ago

This is a wonderful question, and I love your passion! Research is a great way to involve yourself in a field and demonstrate your interest in it, though it can be challenging to find opportunities as a high schooler.

First, I recommend seeing if your high school or anyone you know personally has any relationships with local colleges/universities or professionals in the area; having this kind of connection can help build rapport with someone looking for an intern. However, this may be a long shot, so here are some tips for finding such a position on your own.

-Do your research: look up nearby colleges or universities with psychiatry, neuroscience, or psychology departments. Academics are more likely to be looking for interns than are practicing psychologists or psychiatrists! Once you have found some departments, read about the faculty and the work they're doing to see if it interests you, but don't limit yourself too much -- you are just starting out and a) may not know where your interests lie just yet and b) may need to take any position you are offered!

-Polish your resume: Your school guidance counselor or office should be able to help you with this, but make sure you list your relevant experience (if you're interested in pediatric psychology, indicate work you've done with kids in the past) and coursework (for example, AP Psychology). Make your resume clear and readable.

-Reach out to people you want to work with: Don't be afraid to send cold emails to professors or researchers you want to work with! Tell them who you are, what you are hoping to contribute and get from working with them, and attach your resume so they can see what you have to offer. Keep these emails fairly short and sweet, and perhaps get a foot in the door by asking if they'd be willing to first talk with you about the work they're doing. Be sure to personalize these emails by mentioning why their work in particular is interesting to you (even if you are emailing everyone in their department), and even mention some of their publications that you found compelling.

-Don't be discouraged: Most researchers at universities need to protect internship opportunities for the students at their school, so they may not be able to offer you a place in their lab. They also may be very busy and unable to respond -- that's also normal! Further, health-based research (and especially mental health) is very conscious of patient confidentiality, so there may be less willingness to welcome a high schooler into the work in order to preserve that private relationship. All these factors mean you may get many rejections or non-responses. Don't give up or see this as a reflection of your quality!

-Cast a wide net: As I said before, you should reach out to as many people as you could feasibly see yourself working with. This includes fields outside your typical range -- for example, check out audiology; that's what got me into neuroscience! I was working with a researcher looking at aphasia (a language-processing disorder), and he wasn't a neuroscience professor at all! You may also want to consider volunteer work that isn't strictly research, such as volunteering at a care facility for people with psychiatric disorders. This can be really valuable experience that shows you the human side of the fields you're interested in, and they are generally much more welcoming to young volunteers.

-Start early (i.e. now): The earlier you start your search, the earlier you start working and the more time you have in the position you ultimately find. Also, summer is a busy time for researchers, so they need the help more, and they don't have as many undergrads to rely on since they are on break. Therefore, summer is a great time for you to start working with the researchers and establishing yourself in the lab so that when the fall term rolls around and undergrads return to campus, you are already entrenched in the lab.

This is obviously a thorough but not all-encompassing answer -- you may have other sides to your interests that I haven't explored here! Best of luck in finding a research position!


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