Engaging Undergraduate Students in Mentored Research

Involving Undergraduate Students in Your Research

GW undergraduates can contribute in meaningful ways to faculty research. There are three primary avenues through which to engage an undergraduate student researcher:

  1. Noncredit Research Internships: The student works with a faculty mentor in their field of interest. Students may pursue unpaid internships to gain research training and experience as part of their education and prior to pursuing graduate school or a professional career. U.S. Law requires that an unpaid, uncredited internship must be primarily for the educational benefit of the student.
  2. For-credit Research Internship/Independent Study: Students may receive up to four credits for their work on a faculty member’s research project. Eventually, students might pursue independent research projects on related topics. 
  3. Research Assistantship: Students are paid an hourly wage for work as a research assistant, usually from the lab’s account. Note that paid administrative or housekeeping services performed for a lab do not qualify as undergraduate research.
Type of PositionAcademic Credit?Compensation?Grant/ Stipend Eligible?Requirements
Noncredit Research InternshipsNoPossibleYes
  • Must provide a demonstrable educational benefit to the student
  • An ungraded final project (e.g. oral or poster presentation, written report)
  • Supervision by faculty member or appropriate designee
  • Defined beginning and end dates (no longer than one semester)
For-credit Research Internships & Independent StudyYesPossibleYes
Research AssistantshipsPossibleYesYes
  • Specific job description
  • Supervision
  • Performance evaluation
  • Terms of employment


Offering a Research Internship or Independent Study Project

To offer a research internship or independent study project, post the position details on GW Student Research Commons. You will be prompted to provide the educational benefit and confirm that a final project will be completed by the student.

To provide credit, the student must be enrolled in an undergraduate research course and must receive a grade for their participation.


Hiring an Undergraduate Research Assistant

Career Services at GW can assist you with hiring a student researcher. Most paid positions that are research-related will automatically appear on GW Student Research Commons.


Recruiting Undergraduate Researchers

Once you’ve posted your position to GW Student Research Commons (for-credit or research internship) or through Career Services at GW (paid, including Federal Work Study positions), consider advertising your opportunity through your department or school listserv and/or recruiting talented students from your classes.


Time Commitment for Undergraduate Researchers

It is important to discuss a schedule with your undergraduate researcher and to ensure the researcher has adequate supervision and guidance during work hours. We typically suggest 10-15 hours per week for non-credit research, but some students work as few as five. Undergraduate researchers should not work more than 20 hours a week in order to preserve time for their studies and other activities.

Many faculty mentors incorporate a “trial” semester when taking on undergraduate students. This establishes a distinct time period during which expectations are set and evaluated and after which the faculty and the student can have a conversation about continued involvement. This trial period might involve an undergraduate shadowing a graduate student and/or technician, participating in journal clubs and literature searches, and/or learning basic procedures/protocols before transitioning to an increasingly independent role that both parties feel is appropriate.