The Voluntary Research Assistant Scheme (VRAs) is an experience offered to UG students

    (year 2 to 4) enrolled in a Psychology programme at Heriot Watt University.


    1. Increase your employability profile by including the scheme in your CV
    2. Develop further your transferable skills in terms of data handling and reports preparation
    3. Get greater knowledge of a research environment, including team work, and of the research environment in general
    4. Get hands-on research experience on a specific topic of Psychology of your interest


    By taking part in a research project led by a staff member.

    Minimum duration: 2 months; Maximum duration: 12 months
    Minimum hours/week: 2 hours; Maximum hours/week: 8 hours

    The number of hours undertaken will depend on the time of year and your commitments in relation to your studies and should be discussed and agreed with your supervisor.

    Is there a selection process?

    The VRA experience is agreed with the supervisor. If the supervisor accepts the application and there are places available, then no further selection is needed. If there are more applications than places available, then there is a selection process.

    The selection is based on:

    • CV (qualifications acquired up until the application and extracurricular relevant activities)
    • Personal statement highlighting the reason for pursuing this opportunity ( e.g. experience useful for pursuing Masters programme or PhD position; experience useful for developing particular skills; experience useful for deciding between clinical and research career)
    • Match between abilities-project (e.g. if project requires use of SPSS independently, unlikely to benefit year 2 student).

    If you are interested in becoming a VRA for any of the projects below, please email the relevant staff contact copying in VRA Coordinator: Dr Mel McKendrick


    Campus Edinburgh only
    Project Social Motivation in Autistic People

    Autistic people have been hypothesised to show lower social motivation levels than non-autistic people. However, social motivation levels may depend on contextual factors, such as the identity of the person to be interacted with, the environment, prior knowledge of the person etc. The current study is an experimental computer task examining whether autistic people show differences in social approach for autistic people, non-autistic people and objects. It will also be examined whether social motivation associates with mood.

    VRA role

    VRA Role: Recruitment of autistic participants, Data collection – Running the computer experiment with participants and collecting questionnaire data.

    Start date January 6th 2020

    The study will involve testing participants on a single occasion. Testing sessions will last approximately 1 hour: 45 minute to complete the experiment and questionnaire measures and an additional 15 for informing and debriefing. The VRA can work up to 8 hours per week, across approximately 2 months, with the aim of recruiting approximately 20 participants.

    Benefits to VRA

    Experience in recruiting and testing participants, carrying out psychological testing, testing for autistic traits, and depressive symptoms. Training in psychological testing. Training in data management (e.g. encryption).


    Staff Contact Dr Mary Stewart


    Campus Edinburgh only

    Understanding factors that influence facial expression recognition.


    There are a number of factors that affect emotion recognition including age, gender and mental health.  Most research to date has investigated this by comparing the mean performance of two or more experimental groups.  This research seeks to understand the relationship between the visual signals in the image and emotion recognition performance at the level of the individual.  This will be achieved by presenting participants with a series of images on a computer screen and asking them to make decisions about the expressions.  Looking at their responses to these images tells us how sensitive they are to the emotions.

    There are currently three projects that you can engage in:

    • the effect of ageing on sensitivity to emotions
    • does making stimuli perceptually equivalent affect performance on the emotional attentional blink task
    VRA role
    • Edit images to create new stimuli
    • Data collection; using themselves and others as participants
    • Plot data and “tweak” the experimental parameters, where appropriate, to facilitate data collection
    • Present data in the style of a results section

    Eligibility: The candidates will need to have normal or corrected to normal vision.  The candidates will need to be confident using computers and have an interest in visual perception.

    Start date

    January 2020


    As needed weekly from January 2020 until July 2020 (N.B. it is not expected that you will be available each week during this time, a schedule of engagement will be arranged between us, normally at least 2 hours per week during term time).

    Benefits to VRA

    Experience collecting, analysing and preparing data for write up.  Training in data management, analysis and using Matlab software.  Working as part of a research team with other VRAs.

    Staff Contact

    Dr. Louise Delicato




    Edinburgh (predominantly), Dubai/Malaysia (Data analysis only)


    Validation of a potential training paradigm for student presentation skills

    Description  The aim of the current study is to trial a combination of exposure and cognitive restructuring in a training paradigm with live social performance situations (student presentations) in order to provide the basis for research development in a virtual training application programme                                                       
    VRA Role

    We are looking for students who can help running the study which will involve groups sessions where students engage in presentation practice. You will help with administering feedback exercises and in analysing speech, motion and eye tracking data. 

    Start Date March 2019
    Duration The study will involve 15 two hour sessions and the analysis period will extend some weeks after this but your involvement will depend on your role. 
    Benefits to VRA You will gain experience of working with groups of participants in a lab based study and learn about social anxiety in relation to speech content, gestures and attention. You will also gain knowledge of analysis and statistics depending on your role. 
    Staff Contact Dr Mel McKendrick




    Campus  Edinburgh only

    Playing for boosting reading

    Description  Learning to read can be a hard and laborious task, especially when the child is underachieving and feeling the pressure of lagging behind. Having difficulty in learning to read can lead to demotivation and discouragement for engaging in reading activities                                                         
    VRA Role

    We are looking for an enthusiast person, keen to work independently and to interact with children to pilot a set of on-line games aiming at boosting reading in children at the early stage of primary school.

    Start Date To be agreed with supervisor
    Duration We request that you be available 6 hours per week.
    Benefits to VRA To be discussed with supervisor
    Staff Contact Dr Maria Garraffa


    Campus Edinburgh/Malaysia

    Adaptation of the Comprehensive Aphasia Test in Malay and Italian

    Description  Are you a student in Psychology native speaker of Malay or Italian? Are you interested in Neuropsychology and Language disorders? The LangLife Lab is interested in adapting the Comprehensive Aphasia Test  (CAT; Porter, Howard and Swinborn, 2004) in Malay and Italian, as part of a bigger research project.
    VRA Role

    We are looking for a student who would like to gain experience in testing language abilities in adults and to learn psychometric properties related to language.


    Start Date To be agreed with supervisor
    Duration We request that you be available 8 hours per week, but we are also interested in arranging placements during the summer break. Please note that some days will be spent working out of office.
    Benefits to VRA  To be discussed with supervisor
    Staff Contact Dr Maria Garraffa





    © 2020 Heriot-Watt University. Psychology Department. All Rights Reserved.

    We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.