Is the Specialized Honours Program Right for Me?

Date of the Event: January 11, 2017

Time of the Event: 5:30-6:30pm

Location of the Event: Norman Endler Room (Room 163) in BSB

Hosted by: Jennifer Steele, Specialized Honours Coordinator

During this informative event, Dr. Jennifer Steele explained the requirements, the application process, and the benefits of being a part of the Specialized Honours Program in Psychology. Afterwards, there was a question and answer period where Dr. Steele gave some tips on how to make your application stand out and how to acquire a Research Assistant (RA) position in a laboratory.

An Overview of Degree Options for Psychology Students

  • Students can minor in psychology or complete a double major in psychology and another program
    • These options are not available in the Specialized Honours Program
  • Students can major in psychology in the 3 year (90 credit) BA or BSc Psychology program
    • This option is best for students not looking to pursue further graduate studies
  • Students can major in psychology in the 4 year (120 credit) BA or BSc Honours Psychology program
    • The goal for the Honours program is for students to “become educators, users, and conveyors of psychological knowledge” and to “critically evaluate psychological research and theories” as stated by Dr. Steele
  • All of the above programs have less course requirements than the Specialized Honours Program

The Specialized Honours Program

  • “Prepares students for graduate studies in a research intensive field”
  • Provides training in research and statical analysis through specialized courses
  • “Provides assistance in finding a thesis supervisor”
  • “Ideal for students aiming to pursue a PhD in psychology or another research intensive field of study”


Specialized Honours Program Requirements

  • Need to be a Psychology major in a 120 credit program (i.e Honours Psychology)
  • Need to have completed PSYC 1010 (Introduction to Psychology with grade of at least C), PSYC 2030 Introduction to Research Methods, and PSYC 2020 Statistics 1 and 2 (or equivalent)
  • Need to have completed 53 credits at time of application
  • Need to have completed (or plan to complete by end of the summer of the year you apply) your general education requirements for your degree
  • Need to have a 7.0 (B+) GPA

Obtained from Specialized Honours website:

Dr. Steele said that students who do not have a B+ average but have relevant research experience or have confirmed an RA position in a lab may still be eligible for the program and she encouraged these students to apply. She also encouraged students who did not get accepted at the end of their second year to re-apply at the end of their third year. However, only the 3rd year students who have a confirmed thesis supervisor will be accepted.

The Application Process

  1. Applications may be submitted any time between May 1-15th
  2. Follow up interviews will be scheduled in late May
  3. Decisions will be made by early June

The Question and Answer Period

Question: Do you have any advice on how to acquire an RA position in a lab?

Answer: In the Specialized Honours Program, students are required to take a course titled “Professionalism and Communication in Psychology” which will help students obtain connections to labs. She then gave some general advice on how to acquire an RA position:

  • Search York’s Faculty of Health Directory to find information about psychology professors and determine whose research projects match your professional interests and curiosity
  • Determine which professors have active labs and are accepting RA’s
    • An indication of an active lab is if they have published research papers recently and if their website seems up to date
  • Students should start looking for RA positions at the beginning of second year
  • Keep in mind that RA positions are usually volunteer and require on average a 5 hour commitment per week
  • Students should email faculty members inquiring about RA positions
    • The email should be professional with no grammatical errors, it should state why the student is interested in that particular lab, and one’s resume and unofficial transcript should be attached
    • Students should follow up within 2 weeks if they haven’t received a reply

Question: For the Specialized Honours Program, how many applicants were there, how many were given an interview, and how many were accepted last year?

Answer: About 30-40 applications were received, 15-20 students were interviewed, and 8-10 were accepted.

Question: What are some mistakes students make in their applications?


  • Students write that they are interested in the Specialized Honours Program because a thesis supervisor will be found for them
    • This is a misconception, students will be assisted in finding a thesis supervisor but it is the student’s responsibility to confirm a supervisor
  • Students write that they want to enter a profession where they help people through therapy
    • This program is a good fit for people who want to conduct psychological research in their future careers (i.e as a clinical psychologist)


Question: What makes an application stand out?

  • A well written statement (as writing skills are essential to conducting psychological research and publishing research papers)
  • Prior research experience in a lab
  • Demonstrating excitement and passion for research

Question: Do you have any advice about the Honours thesis project?

  • Have a variety of interests and be flexible in terms of the topic that you choose
    • The importance of the thesis is to gain initial research experience and it’s okay if the topic is unrelated to the field or branch of psychology you later want to pursue
  • It’s a “learning experience and process” as stated by Dr. Steele

Question: Are part time students accepted into the Specialized Honours Program?

Answer: Yes, they can be but they must have flexibility in their schedule because many required courses for the program are only offered in one time slot.

Dr. Steele stated that there may be some changes in the required courses for the Specialized Honours Program so frequently check the website at :

For more information on the Specialized Honours Program, you can contact Dr. Steele at

UPSA’s next event is for students aiming to pursue a career in clinical psychology! How to Get into Clinical Psychology will be held on February 6, 2017 from 3-4pm in BSB 163 (The Endler Room) and will be hosted by Dr. Jill Rich! We look forward to seeing you there!


UPSA presents York Psychology Undergraduate Research Opportunities: Taking Full Advantage

During this event, Dr. Rebecca Riddell provided students with valuable information and advice related to research assistant (RA) positions and how to get involved in psychology labs at York University. Dr. Rebecca Riddell explained the tasks which an RA typically performs, the importance of having experience as an RA in a psychology lab, and finally guidance on how to acquire an RA position (i.e. how to approach professors, when to apply, etc.). Below is an overview of Dr. Riddell’s main points.

What are the tasks of an RA?

It depends on the lab and its’ area of research and/or expertise however, most positions include:

  • data entry (a basic introductory task which is a necessary skill for graduate school)
  • data collection (in which students have the opportunity to interact with participants of the research)
  • data analysis and discrimination (is rare for undergraduate RA’s to partake in as this involves writing and publishing articles in psychology journals)

Who should get involved in research?

  • Students who aim to attend graduate school as it will expose them to a research setting and can help them determine if they enjoy participating in the research process and what area of research they may want to pursue
  • Experience as an RA is required to be accepted in many psychology graduate programs
  • Students who do not want to attend graduate school as it will aid students who are entering certain evidence based practices such as law and social work

The benefits of an RA position:

  • It provides a stepping stone to other opportunities such as paid positions, independent studies with professors, honours thesis positions, etc.
  • It allows you to develop a rapport with professors who lead the lab
  • Student RA’s are typically awarded with reference letters in which professors elaborate on professional and academic skills which the RA was able to develop and enhance (i.e. able to problem solve, working effectively with others, taking direction, etc.)

Why do professors want students to volunteer in their research?

  • To train students who will be invested in their research in the long term
  • To gain support on research studies in a challenging funding environment
  • To learn about new perspectives on research designs and proposals
  • To provide support to graduate student researchers

RA’s are highly valued in labs! For instance, in Dr. Riddell’s lab, the OUCH lab, undergraduate RA’s are the “front face of the research” as they spend a large amount of time obtaining consent from prospective participants and collecting questionnaire and physiological data from participants. Thus, RA’s are essential for Dr. Riddell’s research to move forward!

What are professors looking for in RAs?

  • Students with a GPA of a B+ or higher (however the GPA cut off for labs may differ so students should inquire about the cut off before applying)
  • Student who are able to dedicate 5-10 hours a week for a year (however, this also differs across labs)
  • Students interested and passionate about research
  • Students who want to grow in a lab
  • Students who are hardworking, can multitask, and have excellent time management and organizational skills

Tips for Applying:

  • Apply at the beginning of September and May
  • Students should read the lab’s website and a few abstracts or journal articles published by the professor and should then write a professional email to the professor inquiring about any available RA positions. Students should attach a cover letter, unofficial transcript, and a copy of their resume. Students should politely follow up within 3 weeks if they have not received a response.
  • In the cover letter, students should state their GPA and why they are interested in that particular lab
  • They should use “Volunteer Position” as the email subject line

What not to do

  • Students should not:
    • volunteer in more than 2 labs at a time as this is a very large time commitment
    • send generic emails to professors when inquiring about RA positions
    • approach professors in person as their first point of contact, email should be the first contact point
    • let GPA drop while volunteering in a lab

Advice from undergraduate RAs (who are currently working in labs):

  • RA’s should attend lab meetings to get an idea of what types of projects/studies graduate students and post doctoral fellows are currently conducting
  • Students should volunteer in a few labs throughout their undergraduate career rather than a large amount so they can develop meaningful rather than fleeting relationships
  • Students should have a cover letter that highlights their marketable skills (i.e. proficiency in Excel, PowerPoint, SPSS, R, etc.)
  • Students should bond with other students working in the lab
  • Students should search and apply for RA positions early on (i.e. at the beginning of second year)


Wellness & YU in Calumet

UPSA’s objective is to promote psychology students’ social, academic, and professional development and success. Moreover, UPSA aims to shed light on the importance of students’ mental health as well as their social, emotional, and spiritual well being. In view of this, UPSA attended the Wellness and YU event where our Vice President, Anik Patel, led a workshop on two aspects of gratitude, remembrance, and action. During the workshop, students were asked to write about someone they were thankful for on a leaf. Anik explained that the next step is to act and students should do something to express their gratitude towards that individual. He then emphasized how expressing gratitude helps individuals avoid a selfish lifestyle and promotes mental health and emotional well being. Two speakers from YouthSpeak also spoke about their personal experiences suffering from mental health issues and how they are working to overcome it and reduce the stigma surrounding these issues.

UPSA’s First Event of the Fall Semester: Meet the Professors

How do you make meaningful connections with psychology professors?

At UPSA’ s Meet the Professors event, students had the opportunity to meet and network with Psychology professors from various domains whose research interests range from the social cognitive to the paediatric pain sphere. Dr. Raymond Mar, Dr. Heather Jenkins, Dr. Rebecca Riddell, and Dr. Jennifer Steele were in attendance and formed the panel which spoke about how their research interests developed, how undergraduate students can access research opportunities at York, psychology graduate school programs, alternatives to graduate school, etc. Below are some tips the panel provided on how to approach and interact with professors when looking for research assistant positions.

• Write personalized emails to professors when inquiring about research assistant positions rather than sending out the same generic email to a plethora of professors.

• These emails should be written in a professional and formal, rather than colloquial manner.

• In this email, one should demonstrate that they have a passion for the phenomenon that the professor is researching in their lab.

• One can display their intrigue by reading some of the professor’s previous research articles and writing a few brief sentences (in their email) as to why this research interests them.

Tip: Remember that professors are searching for students whose passions, interests, and goals are in line with that of their lab and who would be a good fit for their lab

• Students should not be offended if professors do not reply to emails promptly as they can become extremely busy, especially near the end of semesters.

• Professors may email students back up to 2 weeks after their initial email is sent out so it’s critical for students to check their email around this time period.

There was also a question and answer period where the professors responded to students’ questions. Some of these questions are below:

Question from anonymous student: “Is there any advantage to attending the same school to complete your undergraduate as well as your graduate degree?”

The panel’s response: Dr. Mar and others stated that there’s “lots of variability in opinions” in relation to whether there are more advantages or disadvantages of attending the same university for one’s undergraduate and graduate degrees. One professor on the panel did assert that if a student was to stay in the same institution, they would be able to further develop and enhance their connections in graduate school that they made with professors and faculty while completing their undergraduate degree. However, the general consensus within the panel was to acquire experience being trained by various institutions so that, as Dr. Steele stated, “one can broaden their experience and their learning”.

Question from anonymous student: When applying to graduate school, would the acceptance committee be looking for experience such as a hotline mental health helper?

The panel’s response: Dr. Steele stated that when you enter a clinical psychology graduate program, you’re training to (potentially) be a clinician and a researcher/have a research oriented career. Pursuing this program does provide students with more career options as one can become a researcher, clinician, or professor. However, if an individual pursues a different post undergraduate program such as a Masters of Social Work, “the research piece won’t be as much of a focus” and working with patients will be more heavily emphasized. Dr. Steele also said that accepting the position of a hotline mental health helper would be rewarding in that it would aid an individual in deciding if they enjoy this experience and if they find it rewarding. This in turn will help one decide what type of graduate program and eventual career they may want to pursue. She also advised the student to consider applying for the Specialized Honours Program as these students “gain additional mentoring and are at an advantage in respect to more research oriented graduate programs”.

Question from anonymous student: Is it more advantageous to be in the Specialized Honours program or to minor in another program?

The panel’s response: Dr. Steele asserted that “it depends on what the minor is in and what you ultimately want to do (in terms of career choice)”. For instance, if one want to pursue clinical neuro-psychology, “it makes sense to minor in biology”. She also said that “one of the advantages of the Specialized Honours program is that some courses are designed to give specific training for graduate school”.

Lastly, the panel engaged in a general discussion about the clinical psychology graduate program. Dr. Riddell asserted that the average clinical psychology student works about 60 hours per week and that clinical psychology graduate school acceptance rates range from about 4-8% (depending on the university and the program). The panel was in agreement that if a student does not have an affinity for the research methods and statistics component of psychology, they should consider an alternative graduate program as the clinical psychology graduate program is “all about that”.

Light refreshments were offered and students were able to speak one on one with professors after the question and answer period finished. We thank Dr. Raymond Mar, Dr. Heather Jenkins, Dr. Rebecca Riddell, and Dr. Jennifer Steele for taking the time out of their busy schedules to attend this event which took place on October 20, 2016 from 5-7:30 pm in room 152 in Founders College.

At this exciting event, students had the invaluable experience of meeting and developing meaningful connections with professors who are experts in their field and who were able to provide helpful and useful advice and information pertaining to research involvement and graduate programs in psychology. UPSA aims to support psychology students, promote their academic and professional success, and to offer them (academic or social) assistance through beneficial events such as these. We hope to see you at our next event “York Psychology Undergraduate Research Opportunities: Taking Full Advantage” on November 21, 2016 from 10:30am-12pm in 164 BSB, which will be hosted by Dr. Rebecca Riddell, York Research Chair!

UPSA’s First Tabling Event of the Year

During UPSA’s first tabling event on October 13th, we had the opportunity to meet many high energy psychology students eager to join UPSA. Once students are on UPSA’s listserv, they are at a great advantage as they receive emails pertaining to available research assistant positions which other psychology students may not be aware of. Furthermore, these students are notified about UPSA’s upcoming events and other psychology related opportunities.
Merchandise such as t-shirts, sweaters, and lanyards are always sold during tabling events and are reasonably priced. Moreover, UPSA representatives respond to general inquiries about the psychology program here at York University. For instance, frequently asked questions during this tabling event pertained to the Specialized Honours program. UPSA representatives are more than happy to answer your psychology related questions and we hope to aid psychology students in having a successful undergraduate career. We look forward to seeing you at the next tabling event!