There are many ways an undergraduate student can contribute to a research team. To broadly define the term, though, consider this definition offered by the University of Oklahoma:
Undergraduate research is mentored intellectual engagement using established scholarly processes to make a meaningful contribution to a project, question, or problem, where the outcomes are presented or performed with review, critique or judgment, and both the process and product are based upon disciplinary standards. The work will be at least partially novel, but may result in a preliminary product, a partial solution, or additional questions for future investigation.
What this process looks like within your department, division, and/or specialty can vary! Feel free to peruse some example projects students have worked on across disciplines for ideas about scope and avenues for involvement.
Many mentors incorporate a “trial” or “evaluation” semester when taking on undergraduate students so that there is a set time established upfront when you and the prospective researcher can have a conversation about continued involvement. Mentors using this strategy may have an undergraduate shadow a graduate student and/or technician, take part in journal clubs and literature searches, and/or learn basic procedures/protocols during this initial trial period to support the student’s eventual transition to an increasingly independent role.
Many students come in with the expectation that undergraduate research will be “all action, all the time.” It is important to have a conversation with your undergraduate researcher that sets clear expectations and discusses some of the realities of research in your field (sometimes, it might be a bit “boring,” but sometimes that’s the nature of the job!).
No, there is no requirement for pay, so long as the undergraduate is not displacing regular employees and is benefiting from training in an educational environment. Essentially, there are three avenues for undergraduate participation (see our faculty page for additional information):
- Unpaid intern: Students work for the training and experience offered by a mentor in their field of interest. Students working as unpaid interns often have interest in pursuing research through a graduate or professional school program after graduation and want experience in the field.
For URMC mentors: The SMD Internship Form is used to describe the educational component of the unpaid experience to meet legal requirements for unpaid work by students. See the final question on this page for more information about paperwork.
- Research for credit: Students can register for academic course credit using an independent study form. Students can receive one to four credits for their work, depending on their time commitment. See the question on how research for credit works on this page for more information.
- Research for pay: Students can receive hourly pay for work as a research assistant from your lab’s account. See information about student employment in the next question.
In health/life science, many paid students are often hired to complete dishwashing and/or administrative work. These positions are great for some students, but without an investigative component, they do not “count” as undergraduate research.
Pay for research work is welcomed if it is in your budget. Sources of funding are always in more limited supply than we would all like; however, there are a few resources to be aware of:
- Student Employment (hiring a student for pay): The Office of Student Employment on River Campus has a repository of information for potential employers regarding student wage policies, the Federal Work-Study Program (subsidized hourly pay), and procedures for hiring students through JobLink, the student employment system. Be aware that the federal minimum wage is increasing by $0.70 each December for the next few years, so information about standardized wage bands for students will be updated accordingly each year.
- Discover Grant: The Discover Grant is offered to students through the Office of Undergraduate Research through an annual application process. Students can apply for funding to support summer research opportunities. Students must have a project and mentor secured to be eligible for this funding. As the Office of Undergraduate Research receives a large number of funding requests through the Discover Grant, funding often ends up being able to cover bare-bones cost-of-living expenses if the student is staying in Rochester.
- NIH/CDC Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research: If you have an active NIH-funded project, you can submit a supplement to support one or more undergraduate researchers from underrepresented groups, individuals with disabilities, or individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds through the summer and/or through the academic year. These funds are limited to supporting students that are US citizens or permanent residents. For specifics on eligibility for students see the funding opportunity section of the NIH funding guide.
- NSF REU supplement: If you have an active NSF-funded project, you can submit a supplement to support an undergraduate researcher through the summer and/or through the academic year. Funds from NSF are limited to supporting students that are US citizens. For additional information on the supplemental funding opportunity, see the NSF REU Supplemental Funding Letter.
- Research Presentation Award: Rochester undergraduate students presenting their research at academic conferences can apply for up to $500 for domestic travel or $1,000 for international travel. Please note that there is not funding available for a student to just attend a conference; he or she must be presenting.
- Research and Innovation Grant (RIG): The RIG is a $3,000-4,500 grant offered to a small, select group of students upon admission to Rochester. The funding can be used for experiential education opportunities during the academic year and/or over the summer after the student’s first semester at Rochester. Students with a RIG have the ability to use their grant to pay themselves a wage for research work. Please note that since the RIG is offered to a limited number of students upon admission, there is no way for students to “get” a RIG if they were not given one with their admission offer. Students will know if they have RIG funding or not; if there is any confusion, the Office of Undergraduate Research can verify a student’s RIG status.
Students will need to communicate with you if they are seeking course credit. They must meet a number of campus deadlines and requirements to receive credit for the work they do as part of your research team. You will serve as the student’s project mentor and evaluator and must provide a “permission code” (IPC) to the student for their independent study request form. If you do not know your department’s IPC, contact the Registrar at (585) 275-8131. More detailed information for faculty (and students) can be found on the Independent Study Faculty Instructions PDF.
Note that students wanting to receive research credit that counts towards a biology or engineering degree need to receive additional departmental approval; others will simply need to complete and submit the independent study form as is before the time designated on the top of the form.
Here are the big ideas surrounding research for credit:
- Faculty serving as supervising mentors for a student’s independent study course must be teaching faculty (professor, associate professor, assistant professor, visiting faculty).
- Research faculty can serve as mentors; however, the student and research faculty member will need to have their department chair sign off as the official “instructor” of the course.
- Undergraduate students in the biology major cannot have clinical research count towards a biology major requirement; the clinical research can still be done for credit by registering for BIO 391 (not 395, the standard independent research course code).
Typically, involvement as a mentor looks as follows:
- Developing a course description with your mentee
- How many credits the student will receive (see hourly commitment guidelines below)
- Start date
- Project title
- Objectives and learning outcomes for the student
- Research/technical techniques used/learned
- Any hazards/safety training
- Determine grading criteria: participation, group meeting contributions, literature review, questioning, new techniques learned, products generated, etc.
- Permission code (contact the Registrar at 275-8131 if you are uncertain of your code)
- Monitoring progress over the course of the semester
- Providing feedback on a summative written assignment:
- Students will be required to write a final report summarizing their research by the last day of exams, the length, content, and format of this report are up to you as the student’s mentor
- Though not required, having students submit a draft of their report to you for review feedback--with mandatory revisions--provides the students with valuable exposure to the process of academic writing
- Determine a grade for your student based on agreed upon grading criteria
If the student is working for course credit, you can use these rough/flexible guidelines for commitment time and final writing assignment length:
- Two credit hours: four to six hours or more per week with a summative writing assignment (~four to five pages)
- Three credit hours: six to eight hours or more per week with a summative writing assignment (~six to seven pages)
- Four credit hours: ten to 12 hours or more per week with a summative writing assignment (~eight to ten pages)
Yes! There are a number of avenues for student recruitment, including:
- Your research website: When students are “researching the researchers,” your group websites and researcher profiles are their primary source of information. If students see a message on your site that you are looking for undergraduate researchers, you will likely receive more email messages from interested undergraduates looking for research opportunities.
- Department advisors: All River Campus-affiliated departments have faculty advisors or undergraduate program coordinators that many students turn to when they are ready to get involved in research (e.g., biology, psychology, public health, biomedical engineering, data science, computer science, and brain and cognitive sciences). If these faculty/staff members have been informed that you are looking for motivated undergraduates, they may be able to advise students to contact you.
- JobLink: The Student Employment Office coordinates paid student hiring through JobLink, an online job board for Rochester students. JobLink is used by students to find paying positions. You can read more about how to access and hire students through JobLink on the Student Employment Office’s website.
You can also explore the following discipline-specific avenues:
- UR-UPP initiative: The Office of Undergraduate Research has a project coordinator who works with students and faculty in the life and health sciences to catalyze connections between the two communities. Mentors interested in working with undergraduates can submit a general interest form or a project description that the program will make available to pre-screened prospective researchers. Students affiliated with the UR-UPP initiative receive support in accessing CITI, Blackboard, and URMC-specific training and paperwork with the intent of having students take proactive steps to prepare for work in basic science, clinical, computational, and/or translational research environments.
- Clinical psychology research assistant page: The psychology department has a listing of clinical and social psychology projects actively recruiting undergraduate student researchers. To have your project added to this listing, please email the department administrator, Loretta Pratt (email@example.com), with the following:
Currently recruiting for _____ (identify semester, e.g. Spring 2018)
Research assistants would gain experience with various aspects of research, such as ______. This research opportunity would be well-suited to undergraduates who are considering careers in _________ (e.g. psychology, public health, etc.).
Desired skills and availability
Directions for contact (e.g. please provide CV and a cover letter describing your interest)
Contact: Name, email
- The EDRA (Emergency Department Research Assistant) Program: The EDRA program hires and trains undergraduate students to screen incoming ER patient records for eligibility to enroll in clinical studies. Contact the EDRA coordinator and/or faculty director to have your clinical study added to the EDRA screening protocol.
Plan on negotiating a schedule with the undergraduate. Sit down with them and their course schedule and plot out when they will be accountable for being present. It is important to have defined weekly times agreed upon with the student during the first couple months when he or she will be in need of the most support and training.
Typically, our office tells undergraduates to plan for and schedule between 10-15 hours of research per week. Anything between five and 20 hours, however, is okay. Often, there is some flux in timing depending on the type of work and the demands of the project.
If the student is working for course credit, you can use these general guidelines for commitment time:
- Two credit hours: Four to six hours or more per week with a summative writing assignment (~five pages)
- Three credit hours: Six to eight hours or more per week with a summative writing assignment (~seven pages)
- Four credit hours: Ten to 12 hours or more per week with a summative writing assignment (~ten pages)
That’s dependent on the type of work you do and where you do it. There are a few more hoops to jump through if you are stationed on URMC campus or if you work with clinical patient data/human subjects. Much of the required preparatory work can be navigated by students independently, but some preparations require administrator or PI requests to be submitted on their behalf. Below are the salient points to take note of for different research experiences:
- Students can independently access CITI training and Blackboard/EHS laboratory safety training free of cost. Check to make sure they have completed the correct online modules pertinent to your project.
- For metrics, emergency contact information, and documentation of compliance with unpaid intern policies, the School of Medicine and Dentistry requests that students have an SMD internship form submitted on their behalf (typically via a department administrator) if they are working without pay—as a volunteer or for course credit—at URMC. This form will provide additional instructions regarding any necessary HIPAA training, Intellectual Property Agreement, or any health/immunization requirements for participation.
- Obtaining access to some URMC-specific resources—like computer terminal access, certain components of UCAR training, or eRecord/patient data access—may be time-sensitive and can require a department administrator/requests from a PI directly. As these procedures may take some time, have students initiate these processes with you (or an administrator) as early as possible.
URMC employees may also need to get students access to the following systems:
- Requesting a URMC AD account - administrator required to access; view admin instructions
- Requesting eRecord access (student URMC AD account required) - “enroll a learner” through Sharepoint by following the link on this site