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Undergraduate Research

HDFS undergraduate students have many ways to become involved in research being conducted in the Department. Many undergraduates use research experience to explore interests and possible career paths. Research experience can also be invaluable when applying to graduate school.

Life Span Developmental Science (LSDS) Option

All HDFS students gain exposure to research through our required research methods course, HD FS 312W: Empirical Inquiry in Human Development, and discussions in advanced level courses. However, some students may want to develop more advanced research skills, especially if they are interested in graduate studies or seek evaluation positions in human services. If engaging in research is your career interest, you will want to pursue the Life Span Developmental Science option. Please see the Degrees and Options page for additional information regarding option requirements.

Identifying Research Opportunities

You will most likely hear about current HDFS research projects in your classes. Also, information about University-wide opportunities can be found at Penn State's Research Opportunities for Undergraduates' site. The Department also maintains a Research website where you can identify particular research projects, research areas, and faculty research interests. Many projects have links to project websites where information regarding undergraduate research opportunities may be found. If you are interested in working on a project or with a particular faculty member on research and are not clear if opportunities are available, it is best to contact the project director (if listed) or the faculty member to discuss these opportunities.

Research Project (HD FS 494)

HDFS faculty members are recognized worldwide for their leadership in scientific research in human development. HDFS students have the opportunity to be involved with faculty in studies of social development in teenagers, the problems of child rearing in dual-earner families, the relations between parents and their infants, improving care in nursing homes, and many other topics. You can work with faculty on their current research projects if they have the need for student help and receive credit for this work through Research Project (HD FS 494). With the faculty member, you must complete a form which is available in 315 HHDev-East Building prior to registering for the Research Project course. This is an excellent opportunity for you to work with and get to know a faculty member. It is important to know that HD FS 494 credits can fulfill OPTION requirements in the 400-level Other Selections of your degree audit (where it says “SEE ADVISER”). However, this requires the approval of your adviser. HD FS 494 is not meant to replace HDFS 400-level courses.

Note: Some research projects require a two-semester commitment for three credits (approximately 10 hours a week) each semester. You may have to be trained for a particular research function one semester and then actually carry out the learned function during the second semester. Be sure you and the faculty member are clear about the commitments expected on any research project.

Independent Study (HD FS 496)

You may also have the opportunity to complete creative projects with HDFS faculty members. These projects may include research or scholarly work which is not covered in regular courses. Independent Study is an opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge in a specific area of interest while working closely with a faculty member and receiving academic credit. With the faculty member, you must complete a form which is available in the 315 HHDev-East Building prior to registering for Independent Study. It is important to know that HD FS 496 credits can fulfill OPTION requirements in the 400-level Other Selections of your degree audit (where it says “SEE ADVISER”). However, this requires the approval of your adviser. HD FS 496 is not meant to replace HDFS 400-level courses.


Teaching Assistant Credits (HD FS 497C)

Students who excel in HDFS classes may be invited to become an undergraduate Teaching Assistant (TA). For instance, HD FS 129 and HD FS 411 regularly have undergraduate teaching assistants. This is another opportunity to broaden your educational experience and get to know a faculty member better. Most Teaching Assistant positions are for three credits a semester, and can be counted toward your OPTION requirement in the 400-Level Other Selections of your degree audit (Where it says “SEE ADVISER”.) HD FS 497C is not meant to replace HD FS 400 level courses.

Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Guidelines

Review these guidelines if you are considering becoming a TA for a HDFS course.

  1. Recommended minimum qualifications: You should have taken the course and received at least a B+. Faculty may recruit successful students in their current classes for future TA positions.
  2. Course credit: If offered a TA position, register for credit under HD FS 497C. As part of registering for HD FS 497C, you will be required to file an agreement. The form for this can be picked up in 211 South Henderson. This agreement must specify, among other things, how your grade will be determined. It is important that both the instructor and you understand what is expected in this course. It is suggested that students should not serve as TAs for the same course more than once or function as a TA for more than a total of nine credit hours.
  3. Professional training: The emphasis of your work as a TA will be on developing professional competencies, not just providing a needed service for the professor or the department. You will:
    1. Receive training from the instructor on how to fulfill the role as a TA in his/her class. You, as the student TA, may be asked to attend classes, be knowledgeable about the material to be covered, and keep office hours. You should expect to meet regularly with the professor throughout the semester.
    2. Receive from the professor specific instructions on the professional behavior expected of you as a TA. You should:
      • Keep the professor informed, in advance, of any deviations from the expectations made of you for class attendance, office hours, etc.
      • Keep student records, grades, and other information confidential.
      • Understand the professor's mechanisms for dealing with student complaints, so that you, as the TA, are confident you know what you can decide and what needs to be referred to the professor.
      • Know what you should do when students become angry or abusive.
  4. A word of caution: Recognize that there can be an inherent role-tension between you and students with whom you are friends outside of class or classmates in other courses. As a TA, you are in an instructor's role and must work with the professor to minimize conflicts of interest. At a minimum, this means you should NOT grade assignments, quizzes, or tests of an acquaintance or friend in the class and you should NOT be solely responsible for proctoring tests or exams. Do not assume that you know how to manage these roles professionally; you will need to work with the professor on these issues throughout the course of the semester.