Undergraduate Research FAQs

How do I get started doing research?

Undergraduate research is defined as research under the mentorship of a faculty member or other researcher, such as a graduate student or postdoctoral scholar. Therefore, you first need to identify a mentor. In most cases, undergraduate students support and carry out parts of a larger project that your mentor is conducting, so you can get started learning about that project by participating in hands-on tasks. However, sometimes a student has idea for a research project in mind. In this case, mentors are still important, as they are knowledgeable about the discipline and methods required to conduct scholarly work. Undergraduate students are encouraged to register for our undergraduate research updates to receive the most up-to-date information on funding opportunities.


How do I find a mentor?

Departments within each school or college at East Carolina University will have a listing of faculty with research interests and expertise on their websites. In addition, some departments at ECU have a structure in place to help undergraduates find research mentors. For some students who already have developed a research idea, talking with the chair of the department or the director of undergraduate studies may aid in identifying a mentor. In addition, the Office of Undergraduate Research can help steer students in the right direction if they cannot find a mentor. You can find more information about individual programs – including biology, psychology, chemistry, health education and promotion and engineering – at department faculty pages.


Can freshmen do undergraduate research?

It depends on the department and discipline. In most programs, students need to have certain core courses completed before they undertake undergraduate research. However, for those students who have completed the core subjects, for example, at a community college or through high school AP courses, it is possible that they can start undergraduate research during their first year.


Can I earn course credit for undergraduate research or receive compensation while doing research in a course?

The basic answer is, “Yes, it is possible to earn course credit for conducting research mentored by a faculty member”. Each program or major handles these questions differently. Ask your mentor or director/coordinator of undergraduate studies about research or thesis course options that may enable you to earn credit. In some cases, compensation may be an option – do inquire with your mentor or program director/coordinator. Furthermore, some students may receive compensation from funds provided by their mentor – from a research grant, for example.

The Office of Undergraduate Research offers the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Awards , which does allow a student to receive a modest assistantship (for compensation) while also earning course credit, if the student also happens to be enrolled in a course in which research or creative activity supervised by the faculty mentor is conducted. The research or creative activity being supervised in the course may be the activity that was funded by the URCA award. These may include independent study courses involving research, thesis, and Honors project activities, for example.


What are the benefits of participating in undergraduate research?

    • Enhances student learning through mentoring relationships with faculty;
    • Increases retention in college;
    • Increases enrollment in graduate education;
    • Provides effective career preparation;
    • Develops critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and intellectual independence;
    • Develops an understanding of discipline-specific research methodology; and
    • Promotes an innovation-oriented culture.


Can I be a volunteer for carrying out research or creative activity if I don’t intend to earn course credit or am not a student of the university?

Yes, this is possible if your mentor allows and certain requirements are met, along with formal documentation of being a volunteer. Review ECU’s Volunteer Regulation, and consult with your mentor.