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.
If you liked PSYC 3: PSYC 3 is what's called a "survey course" meaning that it introduces students to the broad field of cognitive psychology by sampling its many subdomains. Every week in PSYC 3 corresponds to a full upper-division course; find one that interests you!
If you liked PSYC 70/71:
If you haven't yet, take PSYC 71!
The department offers upper-division lab courses for more hands-on experience. Look for anything with an L in the course number.
You can earn PSYC 199 credit for volunteering in labs. See my answers to questions about research experience further down the page!
Consider the Psychology Honors Program, in which you will learn advanced research methods and complete an original Honors thesis.
If you liked PSYC 193 (Educational Psychology): Other courses that cover related concepts include PSYC 101, 105, 131, 136, 144, 145, and 152. The department also occasionally offers PSYC 117, which involves educational outreach.
What classes do you teach?
My usual lineup consists of:
PSYC 3: An introduction to cognitive psychology; covers perception, attention, memory, language, decision making, and problem solving
PSYC 70: An introduction to research methods in psychology; learn how scientists design studies to make valid inferences about the world; practice reading and writing research papers
PSYC 71: A laboratory in research methods; integrate what you've learned in research methods and statistics and work in groups to conduct your own experiment
PSYC 193: An introduction to educational psychology; covers teaching in subject areas (reading, writing, math, science), the cognitive and motivational processes underlying learning, and principles of instructional design
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:
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is free for registered students
Student Health Services offers medical care for registered students
The Hub Basic Needs Center helps students navigate food security, financial wellness, and housing stability
Triton Food Pantry is for registered students in need of food
CARE at SARC offers confidential campus advocates (i.e., they are not mandated to report anything) who can explain options/rights for reporting sexual violence or harassment
Student Legal Services offers free, confidential legal counseling
Undocumented Student Services Center offers immigration legal assistance, advocacy, and referrals
The Zone offers wellness programming and relaxation space
I want to talk to someone about academics.
A few options:
The Writing Hub offers free writing support and workshops
The Academic Achievement Hub offers learning strategy support, workshops, and tutoring
Office for Students with Disabilities arranges academic accommodations for students with disabilities
Some students don't realize they might qualify for OSD accommodations. From the OSD website: "Disabilities can occur in the following areas: psychological, psychiatric, learning, attention, chronic health, physical, vision, hearing, acquired brain injuries, and autism, and may occur at any time during a student’s college career."
Study Abroad offers programs, advising, and financial aid
Dine & Coffee with a Prof is a chance to meet with a professor or TA
I'm looking for community connection and support.
LGBT Resource Center offers resources, a library, and events relating to sexual and gender identities
Women’s Center offers resources and events regarding gender issues
International Students & Programs Office offers immigration services for international students and other engagement
Black Resource Center offers community support, services, and mentoring for Black students
Student Veterans Resource Center offers support for transition to campus life, mentoring, resources
Intertribal Resource Center supports Native American students and promotes educational access
Raza Resource Centro offers services and programming for Latina/o Chicana/o community
Asian Pacific Islander Middle Eastern Desi American Programs & Services offers community and support for APIMEDA students
Center for Ethics and Spirituality offers spiritual wellness coaching, meditation space, programs
Student Promoted Access Center for Education & Service (SPACES) offers student-run programs
Resources for Parents and Caregivers page links to resources and community for students with families
UCSD Mutual Aid is a community group to receive support and/or to help support your peers
Let me know if I'm missing anything!
Questions About Research
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: 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. This is a new program -- 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:
A bit about yourself (e.g., "I'm a junior transfer student pursuing a B.S. in Psychology");
Why you're emailing (e.g., "I would like to work as a research assistant in your lab");
Any relevant experience you have or specific experiences you are looking for (e.g., "I am interested in earning PSYC 199 credit"), if applicable; you can also say that you want to learn more about research and are happy to help with anything the lab needs;
Why you are emailing this particular person (e.g., "I took your class and found it very interesting when you discussed your research..."; "I took a cognitive psychology class and got really interested in vision...") -- if an email feels like a form letter that was sent to 100 other labs it's much easier to ignore.
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 UCSD Career Center can help with exploring post-graduation options and career development. Advisors in the Psych Advising Office can discuss their knowledge as well, and you can check out their very useful web pages on the subject.
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. I have collected some advice from others, however, and will direct you there instead; if you've found useful resources in this area please let me know!:
here's a useful table from the University of Delaware psych department
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 that's often not the case here. 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 there aren't 1000 people with those same experiences who didn't achieve the same outcome. Instead, try to gather information about options, limitations, and guidelines.
100% of Dr. Pilegards who got hired at UCSD got really into baking sourdough bread in grad school, so to get a job like hers you should start culturing a sourdough starter now.*
*This is a joke
Graduate School FAQ
How do I start searching for master's programs?
Not all master's programs are created equally, and some are extremely expensive. If you want to stay in California, you can start by searching among the many excellent programs in the California State University system; many of these programs stand up well against other programs in terms of relatively high 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, and remember that most federal graduate aid comes in the form of loans, not grants. 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:  
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. 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 excellent 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. 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. At least at the PhD level, however, advisors have more important things to look for when screening applications than who has the most pristine GPA. 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 does it mean for a PhD program to be funded?
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 quarters/semesters 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 if I finish undergrad without the experience that I need to be competitive for PhD programs?
Résumé-building post-graduation options that pay you:
Lab Manager and paid research assistant positions (here's one place to search)
Some people get jobs in industry that allow them to develop technical skills that will help them in grad school.
Options you must pay for:
Post-bacc programs, which sometimes offer research experience (and sometimes have funding for qualified students; here's one place to search for programs). Note that because these programs grant certificates, not degrees, state/federal financial aid is not available)
Master's programs in Psychology. Programs in which you complete a thesis based on original empirical research will do the most to build meaningful research skills and experience. Having a master's often does not reduce the amount of time you have to spend in a PhD program -- you may have to repeat some or all of your master's coursework for a PhD.
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.
What is your background?
I earned a BA in Psychology with a minor in Cognitive Science from Fresno State. I got most of my research experience in an EEG lab, spent weekends volunteering with a food pantry, and worked as an assistant in a campus office.
I received my PhD in Psychological and Brain Sciences from UC Santa Barbara. I did research on things like metacognition and learning from video games. I had a marvelously supportive advisor. On the side I worked as a teaching consultant for TAs on campus.
My first job after graduate school was as an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology in the Graduate School of Education at UC Riverside.
I started in my current position, as an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology at UCSD, in fall 2019.
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. 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.
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 you love doing.
What is your job like?
Professors split 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 the reverse of that! My title is "Assistant Teaching Professor," which is like an Assistant Professor (usually code for an early-career professor on the tenure track) 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.