Dr. Pilegard's
24-hour Office Hours


I know that not every student has a flexible enough schedule to make it to my regular office hours, so I've collected my responses to some common questions from undergraduate students on this page. I don't address any class-specific questions here; please see your Canvas page, Piazza, or reach out to your teaching team for those!

For information about letters of recommendation, click here.

Questions About School


What classes should I take?

For psych majors and anyone considering the psych major, the Psych Advising Office can help you navigate degree requirements and plan your courses. They also know about other resources on campus and can help direct you to the right place to get your questions answered.

What classes do you teach?

My usual lineup consists of:

What classes are you teaching next quarter?

My typical schedule is PSYC 3 and PSYC 70 in fall, PSYC 71 and PSYC 193 in winter, PSYC 3 and PSYC 70 in spring. That's subject to change! I will also occasionally teach a freshman seminar or a summer class.

Campus and Community Resources

I could use support for my basic well-being. What campus offices can help?

Here's an incomplete list:

I want to talk to someone about academics.

A few options:

I'm looking for community connection and support.

Let me know if I'm missing anything!

Questions About Research

The Basics

What are you talking about, research? 

When I started college I knew there were people who worked as scientists but it never occurred to me where they work. It turns out a lot of them are college professors! In fact, that's what a PhD is for: a PhD is not a teaching degree, it's a research degree! Professors conduct research in labs.* PhD students train in labs to become independent researchers. Undergraduate students working in labs are usually called "Research Assistants" or RAs.

Terminology note: The word "lab" can be used to refer to both the research unit (i.e., the people) and the physical space where people conduct studies. Professors in non-STEM areas also do research and other scholarly activity but they're less likely to call their research unit a "lab."

What do research assistants do?

Research assistants help with all levels of the research process. An RA might help run participants, clean and code data, collect and test specimens, assemble literature reviews, pilot materials, develop new research questions, attend lab meetings, train new research assistants... the list goes on! Every lab has different needs.

Why would I want to be a research assistant?

Getting research experience can help you decide if you're interested in careers that involve research or research skills. Skills gained as a research assistant can include data skills, laboratory skills, communication skills, and organizational skills. Working in a lab is also an opportunity to work more closely with graduate students, professors, and postdoctoral researchers.

Does it pay?

Most research assistants are volunteers or earn course credit. In the Psychology Department, students working in a lab may be eligible to receive course credit by enrolling in PSYC 99 or PSYC 199. Occasionally labs will receive external grants that allow them to pay RAs, but unfortunately that's less common.

Becoming a Research Assistant

What labs are there in the Psychology Department?

Most of the professors in the department do research. You can learn more about what they do by browsing the faculty by research area on the Psychology Department website.

How do labs find new research assistants? 

Every lab operates a little differently. Some labs use formal channels, such as an application process. Some labs use informal channels, such as direct contact. Some labs use a mix of both. Here are some of the main options:

REAL Portal: This is an online portal where labs can post research positions.

Psychology Common Application: Once every quarter you can submit an application in which you express your interest in different labs. Some labs have adopted this as the primary way they take on research assistants, and some use this as just one way they find new people.

Lab-specific applications: Some labs have forms to fill out on their websites.

Direct contact: This is the old-fashioned way, and probably the most common. You can ask faculty, grad students, or postdocs whether they are looking for new research assistants. You can do this in person or over email. Some faculty don't respond to these emails at all and some don't respond until they have a new position available -- don't take it personally!

If I email labs directly, who do I email and what should my email say?

You can reach out to people whose research seems interesting to you. This can be one of your professors, one of your TAs, or anyone (e.g., professor, graduate student, postdoc, research scientist) who is working in a lab you're interested in and seems to be doing work you'd like to get involved with. You might have better luck with people you've had individual interactions with, but it's ok to reach out to someone you don't know personally. Check if they have a website with specific instructions for how prospective RAs should reach out.

Things to put in an email: 

Where can I get more department-specific information and guidance?

For further information and guidance, I strongly recommend reading through our Psychology Department's page on undergraduate research opportunities!


What does your lab do?

Read about it on the PSI Lab website!

Are you taking new research assistants?

Sometimes! The lab is a small operation and we usually only bring on new people when a particular project needs additional help, so our recruitment tends to be relatively sparse and sporadic. Submit an application through the PSI Lab website and the Common Application, and if we don't have a position for you at the time feel free to resubmit quarterly so we know you're still interested. 

Questions About Careers

Preparing for Life After Graduation

How do I know what career options are available?

The Psychology Club at UCSD is great for this -- they hold regular events and programs about careers for psychology majors. Any student can join Psychology Club even if they don't qualify for Psi Chi. The Psych Advising Office has put together some incredibly useful web pages on the subject, and you can meet with an advisor to help connect with available resources. Every spring the advising office holds a series of panels on psychology-related careers called Careers in Mind. The UCSD Career Center can also help with exploring post-graduation options and career development

The American Psychological Association has a lot of data about what people do with psychology degrees and has published this guide to careers in psychology

What kind of graduate degree in psychology should I get for my desired career path?

I have summarized my advice about this into a flowchart: Dr. Pilegard's Incomplete and Subjective Career Guide for Undergrads Considering Graduate School in Psychology

The APA also offers a graduate school FAQ and graduate applications guide.

How do I choose between all of the clinical and counseling career paths?

I am Not That Kind Of Psychologist™️and do not have deep knowledge or opinions in this area. Here is some advice from others; if you've found useful resources in this area please let me know!:

How do I become a professor?

In most fields and at most colleges and universities, professors have PhDs. In many cases they also have at least a couple of years of postdoctoral training. It would be very sensible to assume that doing all of the hard work of getting a PhD and doing a postdoc will earn you a professor position, but unfortunately there are way fewer professor jobs than there are people getting PhDs every year. The job market is rough. Students considering this path should understand that every year many very talented, well-trained people leave academia because they can't find a suitable position. Students pursuing this route should be comfortable with the possibility of pursuing an alternative career after graduation if needed.

I want a life like [insert person here]. Should I just copy what they did to get there? 

Beware of survivorship bias in career advice; just because a successful person had a set of experiences doesn't mean that those experiences lead to the same outcome every time, nor does it mean those experiences and outcomes are available to everyone equally. Instead, try to gather information about options, limitations, and guidelines.

Graduate School FAQ

A couple of notes up top:

What does grad school cost?

There are two sides of this question, and you should research both carefully for your desired career path: (1) what is the upfront cost of graduate school?, and (2) will graduate school pay for itself in terms of future earning potential? The answers to these questions vary widely based on program and career path, so I'll lay out a few considerations.

First, one important difference from undergraduate funding: In the US, most federal aid for graduate-level study comes in the form of loans, not grants.

Master's programs: Not all master's programs are created equally and some are extremely expensive. If you want to stay in California, note that the California State University system might offer more master's programs in your area of interest than the UC. You can search a database of CSU degree programs here; many of these programs stand up well against other programs in terms of relatively high job placement and/or licensing exam pass rates and relatively low (though still substantial) total tuition. Research carefully whether the potential salary benefits of earning a master's in your field are enough for the investment to make sense for you. While master's programs are usually unfunded (meaning you pay for them yourself with loans or savings) a few offer teaching assistantships or other scholarships; here are a couple of Twitter threads attempting to crowdsource such programs: [1] [2]

PhD programs: Most PhD programs fund their students. This means that when the student is accepted, they are offered a package that waives their tuition and provides a living stipend in exchange for working as a teaching assistant and/or graduate student researcher. Programs vary in how many years of study they guarantee funding. Be wary of unfunded PhD offers (or PhD rejection paired with admission to an unfunded master's) -- such offers may not be made with the applicant's best interests in mind: there are more people receiving PhDs every year than there are tenure-track jobs, and the possibility of substantial debt may not be matched by salary prospects.

What experience can I get in college to prepare me for a PhD?

A PhD is a research degree. Generally, the best thing you can do to prepare for PhD programs is to gain meaningful research experience. It's usually ok if your research experience doesn't perfectly match the research interests you want to pursue in graduate school, as long as you are knowledgeable about the area you wish to study. The more parts of the research process you can get involved in, the stronger your application will be (e.g., developing a research question, developing materials, running participants, coding and analyzing data, interpreting results, writing everything up...). If you're planning on going the PhD route, I recommend considering the Psychology Department Honors Program, which includes a completing a year-long research project and writing an honors thesis. Apply in the fall of your junior year. Students with a clinical focus can apply for PSYC 116. Eligible students can also check out the McNair program and other research programs on campus.

Who gets accepted into PhD programs? 

Getting accepted to a PhD program in psychology usually means a specific professor wants to be your research advisor. That's a very different process than getting into college, and means that simple screeners like GPA and test scores only go so far. What really matters is how well your interests and experiences fit with what the potential advisor is looking for in their lab. Advisors often prefer applicants with interests and experiences that align well with the lab's current direction, but sometimes prefer applicants who bring new skills or approaches to the lab, or they may read applications with an open mind and see who stands out. Advisors also want to see evidence that a student will be successful in the program (e.g., does the student understand what they're getting into? do they have a track record of successful research involvement?), which is a big reason why research experience is so important. Compile a list of people you're interested in working with and check out their departments' grad programs. You can email potential advisors before applying to ask if they are taking new students. Some professors don't reply to these emails as a rule, but others like to have some contact with prospective students before they apply. Here's a sample email from Professor Duane Watson.

What kind of GPA and test scores do I need for graduate school?

Generally, showing that you've been a good student is a good thing, and major GPA is more important than non-major GPA. Most programs list a minimum required GPA -- for example, here are the admissions requirements for psychology master's programs at SDSU. Programs will vary in their admissions processes, but none demand a perfectly pristine GPA for admission. At the PhD level, for example, advisors will be more interested in your fit for their lab than precisely how close you were to a 4.0. Admissions committees may even have the authority, in special cases, to waive a minimum requirement for a student if their application is otherwise excellent. If you think something in your transcript needs addressing you can do so in your personal statement or request a letter of recommendation from someone who can speak to those concerns.

What if I finish undergrad without the experience that I need to be competitive for PhD programs?

Résumé-building post-graduation options that pay you:

Options you must pay for:

Why did you get a master's before your PhD?

I do have a master's degree but I was never in a master's program! In many PhD programs you meet the requirements for a master's after about two years and have the option to file for the degree. That's what I did; I think I paid the Registrar a $50 fee and had to fill out some paperwork. 

Note that systems differ outside the US -- e.g., European PhD programs are usually shorter than US programs but require a master's degree for admission.

My Career

What is your background?

How did you figure out what you want to do?

I thought I was going to become a high school English teacher when I enrolled in college. I panicked and switched to pre-med and loved biology but hated being pre-med. I took a cognitive science class and switched to psychology without a clear career path in mind. I started volunteering in a lab and enjoyed the work, so at some point when someone asked if I was thinking about getting a PhD I said "yes." I panicked again and spent a summer teaching English abroad, found I was very bad at it, and doubled my resolve to go to grad school, with a new interest in the relationship between cognition and instruction. There was no magical moment when I knew what I wanted to do -- I just liked this path enough to stay on it, and benefited from some combination of luck, privilege, mentorship, and training to have that path lead to a career I love.

The moral of the story? I don't think there is one, except that college is a great time to get as many experiences as you can in the pursuit of finding out what kind of work you enjoy.

What is your job like?

Professors divide their time between research, teaching, and service. Among those responsibilities, professors at a big research institution like UCSD are usually expected to spend relatively more of their time on research. My job is relatively unusual at a place like UCSD, in that my focus is more on teaching: my title is "Associate Teaching Professor," which is like an Associate Professor (usually code for a professor who has received tenure) and involves all the same components, but teaching is more emphasized. Do you ever think about what job you would invent if you could invent a job for yourself? This one's pretty close to mine.

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