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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Psychology


Frequently Asked Questions

What is Independent Study/Community Practicum?
Like most major universities, USC has a robust and active undergraduate research program. As in any other science, psychology relies on research to increase our knowledge base about the brain and behavior. Many professors in the psychology department conduct research in the laboratory or in the community and need undergraduates to help. As a psychology major this is your chance to gain valuable experience and knowledge while engaging in hands-on learning about psychology! By signing up for an Independent Study or Community Practicum you will be learning outside of the classroom while receiving course credit!

How is Independent Study different from the psychology participant pool?
They are totally different. You may have taken part in the psychology participant pool as a way to gain extra credit for a psychology class. When you did this you were a participant in an experiment. With an Independent Study you are the researcher in an experiment and you are receiving course credit for it!

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How does it benefit me to participate in an Independent Study or Community Practicum?
Having experience in a research lab or Community Practicum will benefit any student, regardless of their career path. For those students interested in attending a Ph.D. program in psychology having research experience is a must. Most programs will not consider an applicant without research experience. Programs offering master’s degrees in counseling or school psychology or in social work may not require research experience, but it does help. That experience may make the difference between them accepting you over the next applicant! Research experience may also benefit those job-seekers with a bachelor’s degree as companies tend to focus more on what you can do over what you know. In other words companies like people with field experience who can demonstrate how to apply the knowledge they have gained. Finally, this is an opportunity for you to get to know your professors on a more professional and personal level. Having this kind of interaction might allow them to write you a better letter of recommendation and more importantly, help in your professional development!

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How is an Independent Study different from a Community Practicum?
For the most part Independent Studies involve conducting research in a laboratory setting while a Community Practicum involves applying information gained from research to better the community. For example, implementing intervention programs for at-risk kids in local schools. Read the individual summaries for each lab below to find out what different professors are doing.

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What kind of research is conducted in the psychology department?
There is a diversity of research and practicum opportunities in our department. The department is generally divided into experimental, clinical/community, and school programs. You can work with children, adolescents, adults, or animals studying phenomenon such as ADHD, behavioral interventions, deception, decision making, depression, drugs of abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, neurodegenerative diseases, physical activity and mental health, and racism, to name a few. Click on the Independent Study Chart link to read more about each professor’s research and their requirements.

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What will my job duties be? How many hours will I work per week?
The duties and number of hours you work vary by professor. Typical duties may include data scoring and entry, interviewing and running participants, attending lab meetings, and helping to conduct literature searches. Participating in a Community Practicum may involve going to a local school and helping to implement an after school program for at risk kids. You will be actively working to improve the community!

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What are the requirements?
You must have a minimum overall GPA of 2.50 although some professors may have additional requirements. See the individual lab for specific requirements.

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How do I sign up?
After finding a faculty member whose research interests you, contact that faculty member and inquire if they are looking for help. Most professors will want to interview you first. If they accept you into their lab you need to pick up an Independent Study contract from the Undergraduate Office (Barnwell 208) and fill it out with your faculty member. Your faculty advisor, the department chair, and the dean will also need to sign the form. It is advised that you bring your completed form to the Undergraduate Office for review before bringing it to the dean’s office. Proper instructions can be found on the contract itself. After turning in your contract you need to register for the appropriate course (see section below on "What do I register for?").

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What do I register for?
If you are participating in a Community Practicum you will register for PSYC 489. If you are signing up for an Independent Study you will register for either PSYC 399, 498, 598 or 599.

  • PSYC 399 (Independent Study) does not count for psychology major credit and can only be taken pass/fail. It will count for general elective credit.
  • PSYC 498 (Advanced Independent Study) – Prerequisite of PSYC 101 plus six additional hours of psychology credit. 498 is taken for a grade and can be taken for variable credit (1-6 hours). The number of hours you register for depends on the number of hours you will be working in the lab. This will be determined by the contract you sign with your professor.
  • PSYC 598/599 (Individual Research) – Prerequisite of PSYC 101 plus nine additional hours of psychology. This is a three hour course taken for a grade with no variable credit. 599 is a continuation of 598 (i.e. you sign up for it if you did a 598 in a lab and are continuing in that lab the next semester).

Here are some general rules about signing up for independent study

  1. The psychology undergraduate office does not recommend registering for PSYC 399 because it does not count as major credit. However, some faculty members require taking 399 with them prior to taking 498.
  2. Only a maximum of 6 hours of 489, 498, 598, or 599 can count as psychology elective credit and these can not be taken pass/fail. Any hours taken over 6 can count as general elective credit and can be taken pass/fail (depending on the professor).
  3. You can only take a maximum of 6 hours of any individual course (i.e. 399, 489, 498) and 3 hours each for 598 and 599.

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How are grades assigned?
Again, this depends on the professor. Most will base your grade on performance in the lab or practicum over the semester (i.e. showing up on time and completing tasks you were assigned). In addition, some may require that you write a paper or complete some other similar assignment at the end of the semester.

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Can I do and Independent Study during the summer?
Yes, you can. Many professors need help with research during the summer.

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When should I get started with Independent Study or Community Practicum?
If you plan on attending graduate school, typically you submit your applications in the fall semester of your senior year. This means that you should consider starting an Independent Study or practicum in the fall semester of your junior year, meaning you need to sign up during the last semester of your sophomore year. This will give you enough time to gain lots of valuable experience and if you do a good job your faculty mentor can write a letter of recommendation for you. If you want to start earlier, feel free to do so as long as you meet the proper requirements.

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Do I have to work in the same lab every time I do an Independent Study?
No, but it would be in your best interest to stay in a lab for more than one semester. This will give you an opportunity to fully learn the fine points of that particular discipline. Also, assuming you do a good job, this will be a way to get a great letter of recommendation. In fact, some professors will only accept students who commit to two semesters in their lab. However, if you started early enough you could work in several labs before you graduated and of course, if you find you are no longer interested in that research you can switch to another lab for the next semester.

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What can I do to present my research?
There are multiple opportunities to present research that you have helped to conduct. Within the psychology department every spring we have the Undergraduate Research Showcase. Students can either present posters or give talks to other psychology students and faculty. On a university wide level you can present at the annual Discovery Day held each spring. Here you compete against students of other disciplines for best talk or poster. Psychology students always do an amazing job and have won many awards. Click this Discovery Day link to see a list of the psychology students who have won awards during the last three years. This is your chance to really stand out and be appreciated as a top student at USC! In addition, you can even present your research at larger regional conferences such as Southeastern Psychological Association or national conferences such as American Psychological Association! Of course, presenting your research in any of these venues would look great on your job or graduate school application!

For those interested in neuroscience you can submit your research for publication in Impulse, an online journal specifically for undergraduates. The journal itself is run by undergraduates and in fact the current editor-in-chief is a psychology student here at USC! Likewise you can attend the Synapse conference where you can meet other undergraduates interested in neuroscience and receive feedback of your work by prominent researchers in the field.