Credit? Pay? Volunteer?

Undergraduates who become involved in faculty research either receive academic credit for their involvement and learning, receive pay for their research contributions, or volunteer their time to a project. Individual students and their faculty mentors should determine the best course of action based upon the needs and interests of both the student and those in the research setting.

The following information describes each of the potential options.


Courses that provide an academic framework for undergraduate research are offered in each CALS academic department. Typically, the department's 4990 course is reserved for undergraduate research and the 4970 course for individual study. To explore the option to receive research credits, students should consult with their faculty advisors and the Courses of Study. Research for credit usually lasts one or two semesters, and the number of credits is assigned by the involved faculty member.


Many research positions are paid. Recent data show that 16 percent of working Cornell students are employed in research-type positions. While students who are eligible for work-study funding have an advantage, there are paid positions that do not require such eligibility. The Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment can provide additional information.


A student volunteer receives neither pay nor credit; however, a volunteer position may be a first step toward a more advanced paid or credited position. Students, especially underclassmen, must sometimes work their way into an appealing research setting or project by first committing time in a more routine role or developing basic skills that will enable them to become more qualified for the research work they eventually want to do. Volunteering can also be a great way for a student to demonstrate enthusiasm for the research work of a professor.