Meet the Expert

Dr. Steven Buzinski
Dr. Steven Buzinski

Dr. Steven Buzinski received his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Maryland in 2011. He joined the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina in 2012. He currently serves as the Karen M. Gil Internship Director and was formerly the Director of Undergraduate Research. A Social Psychologist by training, Dr. Buzinski has research interests in self-regulation, prejudice, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

The importance of a quality internship program for both undergraduate and graduate psychology students cannot be overstated. However, the lines between the different types of pre-professional opportunities are often indistinct. Internships, which might be better termed “practice internships,” may involve research, while research opportunities may come in the form of work-study programs or volunteer positions. Although program details may matter to some students (for example, most students would likely prefer to be paid than not), the most important issue is whether the position provides the student with solid lab or field experience that fulfills their psychology degree requirement or fulfills requirements for further education or a particular career path post graduation.

This guide is designed to help psychology students better understand the internship process, and to locate and land a great internship program or other pre-professional opportunity to prepare for a successful career in the psychology field.

Undergraduate Internships vs. Graduate Internships vs. Postdoctoral Fellowships

Compensation Required?
Undergraduate Internships

Compensation is common, but not always offered

Not always required, but may be beneficial if applying to a graduate degree program.

Graduate Internships

Paid, unpaid, or college credit

Yes. Typically a graduation requirement for most psychology programs.

Postdoctoral Fellowships

Typically paid through grants, stipends, or salary, depending on employer

Yes. A requirement for professional licensure in most states.

Undergraduate Internships

Students seeking an undergraduate internship in psychology can feel like they are working in two mutually exclusive worlds. On the one hand, there is an abundance of interesting programs available. On the other hand, landing a great internship that fits one’s unique interests and academic goals can be difficult.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources out there to help, starting with the student’s own campus. Psychology departments at virtually all accredited colleges and universities provide internship and other types of work and research opportunities to their students, both on-campus and through connections with outside hospitals, private practitioners, and other facilities or organizations. Campus-related programs are sometimes exclusively for students enrolled on that campus and, more often than not, award credits toward degree completion. There are also countless opportunities that can be found off campus.

Paid internships are common, but some may be unpaid. Application and eligibility requirements vary from internship to internship, but typically include enrollment specifically in a psychology or related BS or BA program, junior class status or completion of a minimum number of credits, and maintenance of a minimum stated grade point average, usually 3.0 or greater.

Sample of Undergraduate Internship Opportunities

Graduate Internships

If a psychology student hasn’t decided on a specialization while an undergraduate, he or she will need to do so before enrolling in a graduate school program. Master’s students can choose from among several concentration areas, among them clinical psychology, experimental psychology, counseling psychology, and forensic psychology to name a few. Specialization will influence the practice area of the student’s internship. Internships for master’s students may or may not be a degree requirement depending on the university, but they are still a practical necessity for employment in today’s highly competitive psychology job market.

A doctoral internship is almost always required for degree completion. It is an absolute requirement for all students enrolled in American Psychological Association (APA) accredited doctoral programs. Programs that do not require successful completion of an internship will likely have other similar research or academic requirements for degree completion.

The best place to begin the search for a graduate-level psychology internship program is in the student’s own graduate department, where prospective interns will find connections to approved internships within their local community. Two other great sources are the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the APA. Requirements for specific internship opportunities vary, so students are encouraged to start planning their internship search as soon as they start their graduate degree programs.

Sample of Graduate-Level Internship Opportunities

Postdoctoral Fellowships

The APA describes a postdoctoral fellowship (commonly referred to as a postdoc) as “a temporary period of mentored or supervised training to acquire the skills necessary for your chosen career path.” As with undergraduate and graduate opportunities, the two basic types of postdocs are practice postdocs and research postdocs. Most jurisdictions require those seeking a license to practice psychology to complete a minimum of one year of supervised postdoctoral experience to obtain licensure. Postdocs are normally not a requirement for those seeking professional research positions, but they can be extremely helpful and have become a common stepping stone to a psychology research career. Students are well advised to familiarize themselves with their state’s licensure requirements. A good place to start is the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

By far the best choice for a student seeking a postdoc is to find one that is either accredited by the APA or affiliated with the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). These programs can be difficult to get, however, and some students complete a postdoc through informal training programs. Again, it is vitally important for individuals to have a solid understanding of licensure requirements in their jurisdictions to ensure that any informal program taken on will fulfill all the necessary requirements.

Psychology Postdoc Opportunities and Resources

Research Opportunities

Virtually all branches of psychology employ some level of research in practice. Excellent research skills, therefore, are an important component in the education of all psychology students, regardless of chosen area of interest. Colleges and universities understand this and make courses in research a priority. Given that psychology is a highly competitive field, however, learning about research in a classroom setting is simply not enough. Gaining real experience in research is essential for almost all serious psychology students, and there’s no better way to get that experience than through a research-based internship or program.

Undergraduate Research Programs

The main distinction between a psychology internship and research program is that an internship is primarily focused on the practice of psychology, typically in a clinical setting with direct contact with patients, while research programs are primarily focused on lab work, fieldwork, and other research-based projects. Some internships, however, may involve research and some research programs may involve some level of patient clinical interaction. Therefore, students should never go strictly by a program’s title and always look closely at the detailed descriptions of the programs they are interested in to fully understand just what type of work each entails.

The process of locating and applying to undergraduate research programs is similar to that for internships. The best place to start is at a student’s own school. Faculty members and graduate students often enlist the help of undergraduates in conducting empirical research. In doing so, they provide those undergraduates with invaluable hands-on experience. These programs additionally often award course credits and apply toward degree completion requirements. Another place to look for research opportunities, especially summer ones, is on the campuses of schools offering graduate programs a student hopes to be accepted into. There is no better way gain an advantage with a graduate admissions committee than by providing them with firsthand knowledge of your research skills.

Research Opportunities for Undergraduate Students

Graduate Research Programs

As on the undergraduate level, there is often a great deal of crossover between graduate opportunities termed internships and research programs. The key to finding the right program is determining one’s specialization as early as possible and seeking an internship or research program that is in line with that area. Graduate students leaning toward careers in research will most likely be looking for programs with research in the title whether or not that title includes the word “internship”. And, as with graduate (practice) internships, those seeking a quality research program should first look toward those that can be located through their own school and psychology department, working alongside department faculty as research or lab assistants. While some of these positions may offer a modest wage, most are unpaid but may offer credit toward degree practical experience requirements. Additionally, your department is likely to be able to provide leads for off-campus research positions with local hospitals, clinics or private practitioners.

Research Opportunities for Graduate Students


Work-study is a program that provides the funds for students to be employed part-time by their college in order to pay for their education. Funds for work-study jobs come from the federal government through its Federal Work Study (FWS) program and are appropriated to students based on need as part of the student’s federal financial aid package. The federal program encourages schools to employ work-study students in positions related to community service and in jobs related to a student’s major.

Since work-study funds are awarded as part of a student’s financial aid package, the first step in getting a work-study job is to submit the standard FAFSA form. Students should also keep in close contact with their school’s financial aid office and with their own department to stay abreast on potential job openings related to their majors. Another great way for someone to land a work study job in their major is to contact faculty members directly and ask if they have any positions available, or if not, to suggest that they consider sponsoring one. FWS is available for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Sample of Work-Study Positions

Volunteer Work

Broadly speaking, volunteer work can come in the form of an internship or research assistantship, or by simply finding a program–on- or off-campus–in need of an individual’s unique skills and knowledge. Psychology students will find that volunteer positions in their subject are plentiful, especially with off-campus hospitals, clinics, and counseling centers. There are also lots of psychology department faculty and graduate students in need of help with research and other subject-related projects who can’t afford to pay for that help. The down side to volunteer work is obvious: there’s no pay. But the up side can be tremendous, providing real, hands-on experience that can translate into a valuable skills and knowledge for one’s resume or graduate school application.

Finding a volunteer position in psychology is relatively simple. Check with your department and campus jobs office for openings. Better still, find local organizations and facilities doing the kind of work you are interested in and contact each directly to offer your services.

Volunteer Opportunities

Benefits of Gaining Pre-Professional Experience in Psychology

Dr. Steven Buzinski is currently the Karen M. Gil Internship Director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Below is a brief interview with Dr. Buzinski on the importance of internships and research opportunities for undergraduate psychology students for both graduate school admissions and career progression.

How important is an internship or research program for an undergraduate psychology student?

We find that internships and research experiences are actually very, very beneficial for undergraduates, especially those looking to go onto graduate school, but even for anyone looking to move directly into the working world. The reason being is that internships give students a lot more real-world experience either in conducting research or working with people directly. It helps them in filling in the experience part of their resume, which is as important as with their classroom productivity, or if we’re talking about graduate school, their GRE scores and personal essays. So they are absolutely recommended for all of our undergraduate students, though an internship or research with a faculty member is not currently required [for degree completion].

Generally speaking, when do these programs take place and how long do they normally last?

A lot of that is determined by the site or organization that the student will be working for. Many of them prefer to have someone that can work for more than one semester. They can work for a year or longer. Our Karen M. Gill Program currently only has students matched in the fall and spring semesters, so there’s nothing during the summer term. They are one semester long. Students typically start working the first week of class and they go for sixteen weeks. During that sixteen weeks, not only are students working at the off-campus locations, we also have an on-campus class component one hour a week where cohorts and interns come together to discuss how the relationships between their the classroom work that they’ve done and the work they’re doing in their internships, identifying how they inform one another.

Do you ever have students who complete more than one internship during the course of their undergraduate studies?

The best thing to do is to get a diversity of experience, so if they are inclined and can do one, two or three internships or assistantships, that’s great. That’s not to say, though, that if they are in a really worthwhile experience with a researcher or at a worksite where they are getting a lot out of it and increasing their work responsibilities, they shouldn’t stay there.

Do you ever get any feedback from former students about the importance of their internship experiences?

Oh, absolutely. I will say that, although the Karen M. Gill Program has only been in place about a year and a half now, we have directly placed at least 20 percent of our interns who have turned their internships into jobs with their internship sites. Internships really help them get a foot in the door of a lot of these places.

Is there any specific advice in regard to internships or research opportunities that you would give students who are just entering their undergraduate programs?

There are two things that I would say here. The first is to start early. Start getting to know faculty members, start forming those relationships, even in your freshman year. The other thing, and this is actually a very important piece that oftentimes students don’t consider, is to make use of your campus’s career center and develop your professional profile. Work on your interviewing skills and all of those really important general professional skills, as well as your psychology-specific experiences.

Making the Shift: Transitioning to a Professional or Academic Psychology Career


of employers made full-time offers to their interns in 2014.[Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers: 2014 Internship & Co-op Survey.]


of interns accepted those full-time job offers in 2014[Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers: 2014 Internship & Co-op Survey.]

Nearly 90% of eligible returning interns received an offer of full-time employment from their internship or co-op employer, compared to 43.5% for non-returning interns.[Source: Internship Survey 2015: NACE.]

Graduates with internship/co-op experience reported a 52.1% job offer rate, compared to a 38.6% offer rate among graduates without internship/co-op experience.[Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers:The Class of 2014 Student Survey Report.]

Average starting salary offer to those with previous paid internship experience was $54,304 in 2014, compared to $37,277 for those with no internship experience.[Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers:The Class of 2014 Student Survey Report.]

Steps to Making the Transition

Find the best fit

Before you can find an internship or other pre-professional program that will help you make the transition to a great career, you have to start with an idea of what area of psychology interests you most. Then look for those programs specific to that area.

Treat your pre-professional opportunity as seriously as you would a real job

An internship or other program that you fail to complete, or one in which you only put forth a minimal effort, will mean little when transitioning from academics to career.

Explore different options

Think about multiple pre-professional opportunities. Once you complete your first summer undergraduate internship, consider, for example, a volunteer research assistantship during you regular term. Remember, if a solid internship or research program sets you apart from your competition, imagine what several will do.

Highlight your pre-professional skills and experience

Include a clear and detailed description of your internship or other program prominently when you apply to graduate school or for a job. Make sure to point out the skills and knowledge gained and how they can benefit your new employer.

Successfully complete your degree program

This seems obvious, but it’s important to realize that most employers look to an appropriate degree when hiring workers, especially professional ones. Remember that a pre-professional opportunity allows you to stand out from other job-seeking graduates, but is not a degree substitute. For those still in the college planning stage, this ranking of best online psychology degree programs is a good place to start the school research process.

Intern/Volunteer to Employee: Quick Tips For Getting a Job Offer

Dress to Impress

Doesn’t have to be fancy, just appropriate to the job.

Be Professional

You’re being watched. And judged.

Find a Mentor

Cultivate one particular relationship with someone who appreciates your efforts and can help you during the program and into the future.

Keep Up Your Schoolwork

Your bosses are watching this, too.

Treat Everyone as a Colleague

Not just your bosses.

Seek Out Extra Work

It shows that you’re dependable and interested.

Seek out Feedback

Also shows you’re dependable and interested.

Be a Team Player

Ironically, being a good team player will set you apart.

Don’t Be Shy

Ask about possible employment once the program is completed.

Stay in Touch

If you leave on good terms, maintain those newly formed professional contacts going forward.