Guide for Graduates

This page provides resources for graduate students in effectively hiring and mentoring undergraduate researchers. FAQs for graduate students.

What do I look for in an undergraduate research candidate?

Typically the number of undergrads looking for research positions is much greater than the number of available positions, so you are likely to get a surplus of interest. It may be tempting to simply look for the candidate with the highest GPA, but studies have shown that GPA can be a poor indicator of research aptitude. Also be aware that all of your applicants will have come from very different backgrounds before coming to Berkeley, so a student without previous research experience or internships may have simply lacked opportunity in their high school or previous institution.

We suggest meeting with the student to assess the following criteria:

  • Enthusiasm and attitude: Does the student seem generally interested in working on the project? Do they seem like they would be a good fit for the lab group? Do they act professionally?

  • Motivation: Why does the student want to do research? To fill out their CV, or out of genuine interest in the subject? Do they have a vision for the skills and experience they want to get out of research? Are they willing to put in time and effort?

  • Prior knowledge/experience: Some projects may require students to have taken certain courses or have certain skills beforehand.

We also recommend asking for a reference from the student, ideally one of their former GSIs in the department. This will allow you to get insight into the student's attitude towards learning, work ethic, etc.

What are my responsibilities as a research mentor?

Planning a good project: A good undergrad research project should have a reasonable scope such that the student can make satisfying progress in their time in the lab. Ideally, the student will have ownership over their own project, rather than performing tedious manual labor for their mentor's project. The student should understand how their project fits into the bigger picture goals of the lab; it can be helpful to have them write a summary of the project and a brief literature review to help familiarize them with the field. You should provide the student with a clear set of goals to guide the students in building up their research skillset and progressing in their project.

Setting expectations: Clearly communicate how many hours per week the student should work. Generally 3 units of research credit corresponds to ~10 hours in lab. Given undergrads' hectic schedules, however, it's important to be flexible, for example lightening their research responsibilities during midterm or finals seasons. Communicate your expectations for showing up on time, responding promptly to emails, keeping a neat work area, etc. Give concrete deliverables, for example biweekly slideshows summarizing progress and a longer presentation to the whole lab at the end of the semester. Encourage the student to ask questions.

Providing feedback: Meet with your undergrad regularly to check in with their progress. Provide guidance but work towards helping them become a more independent researcher. Provide encouragement when their research inevitably becomes more challenging than anticipated.

Personal and professional development: Get to know the student personally and understand what their professional goals are. If they are thinking about grad school, help them navigate the application process. Even if the student plans on going to industry, you can provide useful skills such as resume help or guidance on interview processes. Introduce them to your labmates and fully integrate them into the lab socially so that they can learn from a larger pool of mentors including older undergrads in your lab.

Listening to their input: As the undergrad grows comfortable in the lab and with the work they're doing, they may have an idea of additional work they'd like to do or maybe even projects of their own. If you think that these can fit into the scope of your project encourage them to develop their own research plans and work with them to ensure they are reasonable to do on their own.

How do I evaluate the performance of an undergrad researcher?

You may be required by your advisor to assign a letter grade to your undergrad if they are taking course credits for research. The Weber Lab has created an excellent rubric for this purpose, located in the Undergraduate Research folder of the GSAC Google Drive. You can also speak with your PI or members of your group for typical practices for assigning grades for research.