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In my field (data science), undergraduate students usually have to compete for research opportunities. Many resort to things like Kaggle competitions. At the same time, faculty are constantly being asked to do more with the same amount of resources.

There seems to my naive mind an opportunity for a more symbiotic relationship. In particular, it seems like students should be able to do some of the "grunt work" like data exploration, clean-up, and visualization that would save the professor's time. In turn, the students would gain research experience.

So: why don't more professors offer research opportunities to students? Is it just due to the obvious ethical issues that might arise from a sort of indentured service?

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I do employ students to participate in my research. In my department these students (Bachelor and Master students) are paid. That is the first limit to the number of students I can employ: I can only employ so many students as my budget allows.

The second limit is that in the kind of research I do these students cost me more time than they save (unless they are really good). Doing real research is for them a whole new experience, and they have to learn. That costs time, I need to do a lot of explaining, errors happen that need to be found and than fixed, etc.

That is fine, giving them that experience is why I employ them. They can see if this is something they are interested in pursuing as a long term career. If so, then they start with a bit of experience. If not, they are saved from starting a PhD and than dropping out. Either way is a positive outcome for them. For me, employing students for research is more a teaching task; an enjoyable and rewarding teaching task, but not something that I expect to improve my productivity as a researcher (If it happens than that is a nice bonus).

This obviously depends on the kind of research one does, and the kind of tasks that needs to be performed to do that research.

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  • The last point can't be overemphasised- this does vary a lot between fields. Feb 19, 2022 at 22:01
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The most simple answer is (at least in my mind) the professors know what the student can do or not. Most undergraduate student do not know how to do good research. It will cost the professor more time and energy to explain how to do research and explain the process. If the student is a upper undergraduate or a graduate student, then they might be interested in the research and may want to pursue it as a career, so it will help them.

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