Junior Independent Work


Research is at the core of our work as psychological scientists. The primary goal of your independent work is to make sure you learn how to conduct and communicate empirical research. During your junior and senior years you will learn:

1. To develop independent, creative thought in selecting and organizing the material to be discussed, and in the presentation of original ideas and questions.

2. To frame a scientific question and to select and organize material relevant to the question.

3. To critically analyze the primary scientific literature.

4. To select the appropriate method and statistical analyses necessary to test research questions.

5. To develop clear presentation of the material including defining the topic, stating the plan of the paper, appropriately organizing the material, and discussing your findings in the context of the existing literature.

Fall Semester Junior Paper

The primary goal of the fall JP in Psychology is to learn how to critique and synthesize the primary scientific literature. Many students also join a laboratory and gain valuable research experience during this time. The format of the fall JP is flexible and depends on you and your advisor.

You are encouraged to read the research descriptions of faculty on the Psychology department website to identify topics that are of interest to you. You can then contact faculty directly to inquire about joining a research group and meeting with prospective faculty advisers. If you join a research group, you can request to be assigned to that mentor by contacting the Department of Psychology Undergraduate Administrator at psyugrad@princeton.edu. If you are uncertain about what you would like to study or cannot find a faculty advisor on your own, don’t worry. In that case, the department will assign an advisor to you at the start of the semester. Because a major goal of the fall JP is to learn how to read and analyze primary scientific literature, it is not necessary for your research interests to match exactly to your advisor’s. Even if the topic is new to you, the same principles of reading and understanding technical articles will be relevant.

The fall JP may take many formats. Different advisors prefer different approaches, and you can discuss the options with your advisor.

In one common approach, the advisor assigns three research articles on a specific topic. You will write a critical review of each article that includes a summary and analysis of the research. You will then find another three articles related to the same topic and write a final fall JP that analyzes and synthesizes the full set of articles.

In a second common approach, you will find a topic that overlaps both your interests and your advisor’s expertise. You will research the topic, find the relevant scientific literature, and write a review paper on that literature, including your own critical analysis and interpretation.

In a third common approach, you will become a part of the research team, working with your faculty advisor as well as the graduate students and other researchers in the lab group. At the end of the fall semester you will be required to submit a paper describing your work to date. The paper typically contains an introduction that reviews the relevant literature, a methods section describing your experimental procedures, and a discussion of the possible outcomes and their interpretations. You may also include any results you have by that time. The exact format of the paper will depend on your discussions with your advisor.

The fall JP is typically 15 to 20 pages. It should be double-spaced and must be submitted in a journal format that is pre-approved by your advisor. The default format for Psychology independent work is to follow the instructions of the American Psychological Association. The APA style manual is available in the Lewis Science Library for reference. You can also direct library and formatting question to Neil Nero (nnero@princeton.edu).

Spring Semester Junior Paper

Towards the end of the fall term, you will be asked to list at least three potential faculty advisors you are excited to work with for your spring term. You are encouraged to look carefully through the faculty web pages and read about their research interests. You may also want to email and meet with faculty to get a better sense of what they work on. Based on this list and in consultation with the faculty, you will be assigned a faculty advisor.

The format for the spring JP is flexible and depends on discussions between you and your advisor.

Most students write a research proposal. In some cases, the research proposal lays the groundwork for the senior thesis, but this is not required. The goal of writing a research proposal is to learn how to read the literature, identify an interesting scientific question, and design an experiment that might address that question.

The paper typically includes a comprehensive review of the relevant research literature, a statement of your specific scientific question, a description of the methods you will use to collect data, a description of the statistical analyses you will use, and a discussion of the possible outcomes and their interpretations.

In some cases, students actually perform the proposed experiments. In that case, if you have data, you can include it in your spring JP.

The spring JP is approximately 30 to 40 pages. It should be double-spaced and must be submitted in the American Psychological Association format unless your advisor recommends a different format. The APA style manual is available in the Lewis Science Library for reference. You can also direct library and formatting question to Neil Nero (nnero@princeton.edu).


The fall semester paper will count for 40% of the final junior independent work grade. It will be evaluated only by the student’s advisor.

The spring semester paper will count for 60% of the final grade. It will be evaluated by the student’s advisor and by a second reader assigned by the department. Students will receive a single grade on their transcripts in the spring semester for fall and spring junior independent work.

Late policy

Extensions are rarely granted for the junior independent work. The criteria include either the student's illness, for which a written medical excuse must be provided or a family emergency. Extensions must be approved by the Departmental Representative and the student’s advisor. For help regarding extensions, students may also ask their residential Dean or the Department of Psychology Undergraduate Administrator (psyugrad@princeton.edu).

If an extension is not granted, a penalty will start to accrue on the student's grade beginning with the day following the deadline. Grade penalties for unauthorized late junior papers follow a schedule wherein 1/3 of a letter grade is automatically deducted for every 48 hours (or part thereof) that the paper is late, weekend days included. A junior paper which is not received within two weeks of the deadline date will be given a grade of F. After the University deadline, no written work can be accepted for a passing grade without approval from the Dean of the student’s residential college.

If any of the components of the junior paper are not submitted, the student will fail the junior independent work for the year.

Junior Independent Work FAQ

Q: How do I select a faculty advisor whose work matches my interests?

A: You can find a faculty advisor by reading the research descriptions on the website and reaching out to faculty for meetings on your own. If you do not do this, your fall semester faculty advisor will be assigned to you. Because a major goal of the fall JP is to learn how to read and analyze any primary scientific literature, it is not necessary for your research interests to match exactly to your advisor’s.

For selecting a spring semester advisor, read about the faculty in the department and select a few labs aligned with your own interests. Then read several recent journal articles published by members of the lab. Email one or more faculty to express your interest in their ongoing research, referring to specific recently published results, and inquire about joining the lab.

Q: What should I expect from working with a faculty advisor?

A: The independent work is, in the first place, your chance to perform independently outside of the classroom. It is ultimately your responsibility to keep to an effective schedule, to keep in touch with your advisor, and to make sure that you bring work-in-progress to your advisor at regular intervals and early enough to receive timely feedback. Different faculty have different advising styles. Some require a weekly meeting in which all their advisees participate in a group, whereas others will leave the pacing of the work and the amount of student-advisor contact entirely up to you. In the end, it is your independent work.

Q: Is funding available for junior independent work?

A: Limited funding is available, especially for the summer between junior and senior year if students have begun to work on the senior thesis. See Funding Opportunities for Independent Work.

Q: Can I fulfill the independent work while spending a semester abroad?

A: Yes, many students do so. They work with their advisor over email or Skype.

For specifics regarding independent work due dates and deadlines, see the Important Dates page.