I have just finished my undergraduate degree and plan to apply to grad school in Cognitive Psychology. I know my field and am in touch with researchers, some of whom I have approached for a post bac research position (international student talking about positions in the USA). People agree to take me on, but do not have funding most of the time.

Working in a top lab gives you cutting edge research experience which may lead to a publication, a very strong letter of recommendation and a research mentor. (Only the second part is an assumption, the first and the last have been established by researching and shortlisting accordingly.) My undergraduate degree was from a technical school and I did not have access to good research labs while in college.

I have two questions.

1) Firstly, is it possible? Can you pay your own salary as a RA and be on a J1 visa? I hope to pay myself for 6 months and then try to impress and get them to help me fund the remaining 6.

2) Is it worth it? I know I could work as an RA/lab manager but assuming I do not get a funded position. I obviously would first try to get a funded one.


  • Welcome! I hope that my edit to your title still properly reflects your question. "pay for" sounds more like the potential lab managers are asking for tuition or some other odd arrangement. (Paying your own salary, or volunteering, seems less suspicious, though I have no idea how those interact with visa considerations.) May 2, 2018 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


Labor laws are changing, particularly in the United States, and many are interpreting what you would be proposing as an unpaid internship, which is becoming harder for schools to "get away with." For example, if I want to bring someone into my lab to do research, they are supposed to be either paid or receive course credit for their work. But what I can't do for potential grad students is let them work for extended periods of months on a research problem and not compensate them for their work.

So you may find that many people who would be interested in such an arrangement in principle may be hamstrung by their universities' policies.

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