Nick Buttrick – Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Dr. Nick Buttrick – Information for Prospective Graduate Students 


Current research: Research in our lab takes a cross-cultural, socioecological, and historical lens on contemporary American society. We’re interested in why American gun culture has the form that it does and how it affects the behavior of American gun owners (especially when it comes to decisions around weapons storage); how the structure of the places that we live affect the ways we understand the world; how what we read changes our sense of the possible; and how people think about issues of hard work, merit, asking for help, and victim-blaming. You can see some of our recent papers on the website – as you can see our research tent is capacious.

Communication Prior to Applying: I’m always trying to juggle a bunch of things, so I generally prefer to answer questions about the lab or research via email (, especially if the questions are short/self-contained. If the question is more complicated, however, especially if it’s the sort of thing that will influence whether or not you’re going to apply to work in my lab, I am able to schedule short Zoom calls. Importantly: I do not privilege or prioritize applications from prospective students who have contacted me prior to applying. So, if you have questions, ask them; but if you don’t have questions, don’t worry – it won’t affect the process. If your questions are more procedural, about things such as completing/submitting the UW Madison Psychology Department application itself, the best person to contact is our graduate coordinator, Kevin Belt ( He knows far more about these things than I do.

Areas I’m Willing to Advise Students in: Social. In the far future, I might be able to do some cross-mentoring across areas of psychology, but at the moment, I’m probably best suited to advise someone in straight-ahead social psychology.

How I Evaluate Applicants:

Like all faculty members in the Psychology Department, I evaluate prospective graduate students in a holistic manner – we use no formal cutoffs or algorithmic rules. That said, there are some qualities of an application that I get really excited about, and you should probably know what they are before you apply. They’ll tell you a lot about us, and will help you consider whether or not this is the sort of lab environment that you want to immerse yourself in.

I therefore consider all the possible ways in which students’ applications materials can demonstrate excellence and a strong likelihood to thrive in the graduate program and in my lab.  As such, the information below should be treated as general rules of thumb rather than a highly proscriptive “checklist” of attributes that candidates must have in order to be considered for admittance to my lab.

  • Academic preparation: Grad school is hard. While it’s not the same as undergrad, there are still a few things that carry over – you still need to be able to process a lot of information relatively quickly, write well, collaborate with others, and manage your time. We’ll be looking for evidence that you’ve acquired those skills when it comes to your prior coursework.
  • Research preparation: Our ultimate goal in the lab is to have you as a collaborator on our work, not just an extra set of arms and legs and eyes. Having some prior experience working in a psychology lab or similar setting will certainly accelerate that process, since psychology lab work is idiosyncratic and takes a long time to master. Plus, having prior lab experience can help give you a taste of what graduate school is like and whether academia or related fields, with all their very serious tradeoffs, are really something that you want to devote your entire life to. As useful as prior experience is, though, it’s not a requirement for joining our lab. You’ll hopefully learn all the important things along the way.
  • Comfort with Chaos: Our lab is a fairly new enterprise, and we’re still very much building the foundation. That means we don’t yet have firm advising structures in place, nor do we have a ton of experience in bringing graduate students successfully through a program of study. Plus, I’m not always great at keeping track of deadlines (I’m getting better!). So, if you prefer a more stable, predictable, graduate-school experience, with more fine-grained support, this might not be the best lab for you. On the other hand, if you like building things out and pulling together a lab culture, then, this could be the place.
  • Excitement About Reading: I read a lot, and I think reading is great – it can, depending on what and how you read, help people realize just how complicated and weird the world is. While reading a ton isn’t a requirement for joining the lab, by any means, it will probably make things less boring when I keep going on about some short story I just finished or some magazine article I can’t get out of my head. Being curious about the world and ok with being wrong, though? Those things are really
  • Letters of Recommendation: Your letter writers will have seen you in action, hopefully doing some of the sorts of things that you’ll be doing in the lab. We take their advice and opinion really seriously – they give us a great, independent, picture into your lives – and so we put quite a bit of weight on what they have to say (both in the letter itself and when we talk to them about you down the line).
  • A Programmatic Research Statement: In your statement, we’ll be looking to see how you think about research. A statement that will really catch our attention will tell us why you want to study the thing that you want to study, of course, but it will also lay out how you might go about doing it – what sorts of questions you’d ask to become more confident about your hypotheses, and what sorts of questions you’d ask that might convince you that you’re wrong. It’s great if the research questions that you’re interested in line up with the things that we’re interested in (I’ll be a much better advisor that way), but it’s just as important to us that you can write clearly and engagingly about the research process as it is to be interested in a topic that we care about.