One-third of University of Iowa's undergraduate students participate in mentored research with a faculty or staff member. Undergraduates from all majors actively seek opportunities to work with faculty and staff on research or creative projects. This page is meant to help you find the right student to bring into your research.
Step 1: What are your needs?
It is not about finding a student, it is about finding the right student. A good fit ensures a better experience for everyone. The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a template of things to think about, questions to ask, and suggested readings.
Selecting a new student to bring into your research group can be tough. This page gives general guidance for bringing the right student in.
Consider bringing on more than one student. Onboarding undergraduates in pairs has the following advantages:
- Two learners per lesson.
- Students ask each other questions before asking the mentor.
- Creates a sense of teamwork and accountability.
- If one student leaves the group, one student is still trained.
Step 2: Determine Compensation
Compensation methods directly affect who you bring into your group. OUR recommends compensation for students (aside from the valuable skills). Consider these options (click to expand):
Students who want to earn money for tuition and living costs face challenges with getting involved in research. These students typically do not have familial funds backing their education, but they are beneficial to research groups. Paid students have a documented responsibility and duties. Students who need pay generally have more heterogeneous backgrounds, bringing diverse views to your research questions and methods. Researchers who do not have financial resources to pay students often help students find other methods of funding, like stipends.
Not all researchers have funding available for undergraduate students. If you find the perfect student, but cannot offer necessary financial compensation, OUR will help you explore options. This may involve working with departments, accessing known programs, or utilizing networks. Have students review OUR's student-focused page "Cash or Credit?" to see a few options.
Some research groups also ask students to prove a commitment to the group by spending a semester taking academic credit or volunteering before advancing to a paid position. Read more about academic credit below.
Research can be done for academic credit. The Office of Undergraduate Research offers URES courses ranging from 0 to 4 credit hours that provide transcript recognition for your mentee's work. Registration for academic credit ensures students have a documented responsibility. It can also help students fill out a semester, boost their GPAs (students often earn high grades for these courses), note their participation in their transcripts, and fulfill requirements for University Honors or Honors in the Major. See our page "Mentor's Guide: Independent Research Courses" for more information about academic credit.
A great option for students who are getting paid or who are "volunteering" specifically to gain experience. OUR offers a 0-hour course, URES:3992, designed specifically to give students transcription notation of their involvement. See our page "Mentor's Guide: Independent Research Courses" for more information about 0-hour courses. Researchers can track the number of undergraduates working with them across semesters and OUR can better track the number of undergraduates involved in research at a given time.
University rules stipulate that students cannot be paid for the same work that they receive academic credit for; however, students can still receive academic credit and pay for separate hours. As long as the hours do not overlap, students can be paid for some hours and take academic credit for other hours. This can happen for a number of reasons. Some students are paid but also want academic credit to fill out their schedules. Some students are working on two different projects, with funding for one project and no funding for another.
*One credit hour per semester is equal to 3 hours of work per week on a research project. Read "Mentor's Guide: Independent Research Courses" for more information.
Step 3: Reach out to students.
There are many ways that mentor-mentee pairs find each other. The Office of Undergraduate Research advises students to reach out to a mentor to show their interest. (See what we tell students to do: How to Start.) Here are some common ways that mentors find undergraduates to work with:
Reach Out to Students
If you teach a course, chances are that you can easily tell which students have a strong interest in the subject. Many students do not know that research is an opportunity for them or their field. Take the opportunity to talk the class or particular students about your work to see if they are interested in giving it a shot. Researchers frequently shoulder-tap students for research assistance.
Not teaching undergraduate classes? Talk to colleagues in your field who are teaching to see if they know of any students who would be interested. Researchers will often even send notifications to large, intro-level courses in their field.
Even if you do not teach undergraduate courses, you know someone who does. Talk to your colleagues, their undergraduates, or their graduate students. Colleagues may teach classes or have students who can help spread the word. Undergraduates often have have friends or classmates who want to get into research. Graduate students who work as TAs also have connections to undergraduate courses. Use these networks to find pre-vetted undergrads.
The Office of Undergraduate Research has an "Open Research Positions" page devoted to research position listings. We send it out regularly to our ListServ, and we encourage students to look at it frequently.
The Pomerantz Career Center allows UI faculty and staff to list open positions on their job search site, Handshake. UI students have exclusive access to this site. OUR also refers students to this page when they are looking for paid positions.
OUR directs students to departmental websites to find interesting faculty research and projects. Make sure that your profile is updated—there may be students out there looking for you! Some faculty even include a link to their research website. These websites show a bit more about the research topic and atmosphere of the group. Be sure to include a link or contact instructions for students interested in working with you.
OUR staff and students are in constant contact with students who are interested in doing research and creative work. We may know of a student who would like to work with you. Our Ambassadors serve as a first point-of-contact for many students. Look for an Ambassador in your field. They may have been in contact with ideal students waiting to work with a researcher like you!
Step 4: Conversations and Interviews
Conversation. OUR instructs students to request conversations, not interviews. (See what we tell undergrads to do: How to Start.) Conversations preclude obligations for the student and researcher. Instead, each person is scoping out a potential collaboration. If you receive an email request for a conversation, OUR has likely met with that student.
Conversations are less intimidating for students. Many have never considered research or met a faculty member. Conversations lower the stakes. Students receive a broad, comprehensible overview of the research group. They can ask questions, get a feel for what the research and group is like, see the researchers' excitement for the topic, and learn about new career paths.
Students who feel the research is a good fit are told to ask how to get involved. If you feel they are a good fit for your group, you can bring them in. If the fit is not good, it is okay to let that student know. You can also let them know if you do not have openings or suggest other faculty members and research areas that might interest them.
Interview. Students responding to an advertisement are likely coming in for interviews. Many students have never had a professional interview. You can alleviate stress by telling them how long the interview will last, what to bring (i.e., resume, course schedule), and what dress is expected.
During the interview, show the student your research space and introduce them to any group members who might be present. Let them know what their exact duties would be and how you expect them to progress. Do you want them to take over a project someday? What kind of readings can they expect? Are there group meetings and presentations expected? What do group members do during downtime? Remember to leave time for students to ask questions.
Step 5: Selecting the Student
Researchers pour much of themselves into their work. Bringing a new person into highly valued work is a difficult task. We cannot tell you what criteria will work best for you, but we can offer a few helpful tips. Think about these things when speaking to the student and deciding whether they would be good for your group:
We strongly believes that enthusiastic and excited students make the best researchers. Their appreciation for your topic and work will keep them engaged over the long-term, even when things are frustrating or difficult.
High GPA cut-offs can eliminate amazing potential among students with neurodiversity, family obligations, disadvantaged educational backgrounds, or work requirements. High GPAs indicate strong classroom performance but does not always translate to research potential. Gauge a student's potential by assessing their grasp of concepts and intellectual curiosity.
Do not be afraid to take on a student before they have taken many courses. Instead, see how they enjoy their coursework. Even with a low GPA, do they love the material they are learning? Can they utilize it and work through the concepts?
Students who are curious and ask questions do well in research settings. Look for students who are thinking about how the work applies and asking questions about potential studies (even if they are far-fetched).
If you want a student who can take on their own project someday, check their interest in having independence as they learn more. Would they be comfortable taking the lead on a project?
Does the student stick to commitments? Does the student do a little bit with many activities, or devote a lot of time to just a few? Is there a pattern in their activities and interests? Have they taken on activities that teach independence as well as team work?