When starting out, the research supervisor—in consultation with the student’s academic schedule—sets the required work hours per week. Entry-level positions generally require fewer hours than independent projects. More independent positions may require longer research commitments (more semesters).
Some students are paid by faculty researchers to work in their labs – some of these students are lab assistants and make solutions and wash dishes, but don’t do research. Some jobs in the humanities entail computer work or cataloguing publications related to a professor’s research project. If you need $$$ this is a good way to get your foot in the door. After you finish washing the dishes, start asking people in the lab or the office what they work on. Check the research opportunities listed through Career Services.
Some students will be hired as assistants to help faculty, graduate students, postdocs, and technicians do work. These students often learn one lab technique (PCR, DNA mini-preps, etc.,) statistical, or other research technique and they do that over and over. Again, these positions are good if you need pesos, and will teach you how to do a number of techniques.
This is a good way to learn what interests you or to get involved, but be sure to make a firm commitment and follow through (show up when you say you will!) or you might be back looking for a position again soon. Research is serious at Cornell and you need to be responsible or your will lose your opportunity.
Most students are interested in working on their own project. Some faculty will pay students to do their own project, but there are some. Many students get academic credit for doing research on a specific project. Learn more about academic credit for research.
Duration of Positions + Time Commitment
Projects and positions vary in the time commitment they take. Undergraduate research is a mutual arrangement between a student and his/her sponsoring faculty advisor. One research experience is rarely like another.
Initially, when you are talking to potential research advisors, know the level of commitment you are willing to make to research. In the beginning, it will be fewer hours a week, but may increase as you continue your project. Plan on 6-10 hours a week in the beginning. Also realize that if you need training or supervision, that you will need to schedule time during a normal work day for the person training you. Be honest with yourself and the research group about the commitment you are able to make to them.
Some faculty will ask for a commitment of several semesters or a summer so they can plan that you will continue to work on the project.