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

    Cycling Without Age – assessing the benefits of a cycling scheme for older care home residents

    Description Cycling Without Age (CWA) is an innovative activity in which trained volunteers take people out on specially designed trishaws to explore their local areas and communities. Those benefitting from the initiative are predominantly older adults in long-term residential homes, many of whom are living with mobility and/or cognitive impairments that can limit their independence. In the current study, we’re using a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach. PAR is a method that allows researchers to observe participants' feelings and views without being in a position to manipulate them. An action camera is attached to the trishaw. The camera faces the participant at a height that doesn't impede their view of the surroundings and so hopefully does not influence their experience. After a ride, the video is analysed and details about both verbal and non-verbal cues related to their experience will be coded. General themes will be summarised to explore the kinds of experiences the rides provide.
    VRA role To analyse the video data using agreed coding guides. They will compare their ratings with those of the Research Assistant on the project, to agree the overall themes.
    Start date 14th October
    Duration The project will take about 2 months. The VRA will contribute about 2-3 hours per week during the project.
    Benefits to VRA Experience in coding video recordings, working as part of a research team, contributing to analysis/write-up.
    Staff Contact Professor Alan Gow


    Campus Edinburgh only

    Does personality or mood affect rest-related memory consolidation?

    Description New memories are fragile and need to consolidate (strengthen) in the period after learning. A ten minute period of wakeful rest after learning can improve memory consolidation, resulting in enhanced recall for at least seven days. However,  “rest” may not be “restful” for some individuals. The current study aims to investigate whether there is a relationship between rest-related memory consolidation and autistic trait scores or depression scores.
    VRA role To collect and analyse data
    Start date 8th October

    The study will involve testing participants on two occasions at time 1 and again one week later. The first session will last for approximately 1 hour, the second, 7 days later for approximately 20 minutes. The VRA can work up to 8 hours per week, across approximately 9 months, with the aim of recruiting approximately 15 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. Depending on the level of participation from the student, experience in analysis.

    Staff Contact Dr Mary Stewart


    Campus Edinburgh only
    Project The cultural evolution of behaviour
    Description  In this experiment, participants will be asked to solve a problem with gears. They will see the gears on the laptop screen. Later on, they will be asked to help someone else learn how to solve the same problem. 
    VRA role To help the researcher with the experimental procedures.
    Start date VRA students will receive some training during Weeks 1 and, possibly, 2, and the experiment will start in Week 2, possibly Week 3.
    Duration The experiment should not last longer than 20 minutes. Overall, we hope to finish with the recruitment of participants by November.
    Benefits to VRA Students will be provided with direct experience of how to design and implement an experimental study using confederates. They will also develop skills in terms of data collection, time management, and data analysis.
    Staff contact (1)Dr Monica Tamariz and (2)Dr Mioara Cristea
    Email (1) and (2)



    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





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