How can I motivate my undergrad students to do research?

Since these students are at an undergrad level, I don't expect any extraordinary results. However, I would like if they get something published (even in low impact publications).

Undergrads almost never do research in our country. It's not even a requirement of the course. But, I want to motivate them for research. If they get something published, it would encourage them in the future.

In our country, research at the undergraduate level is almost non-existent. I want to introduce this concept at the undergrad level, but I don't want to force anything upon them. I just want to show them the benefits of research.

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    I don't see why it is important undergraduate students do research and write papers. Besides, it is even very difficult for an undergraduate student in some fields like mathematics to read and understand research papers. I think modern science is so specialized that academia should not expect any form of original research works from undergraduates. In stead, I suggest descriptive writings and self study projects for undergraduate students.
    – user4511
    Aug 5, 2013 at 12:08
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    Well, I don't see why undergraduate students can not do research? In fact, they are young, and they are full of energy and ideas. And research and reading papers are not close-bounded jobs. They are more like skills to be honed over years, like you learn writing from primary school... Its about improving your thinking process, be innovative, be able to ask whys, hows and go beyond whats and which..
    – Swagatika
    Aug 6, 2013 at 13:40
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    I don't think undergraduates should be motivated to do research. They need to come to the realization that they want to become involved in research on their own. Research is not for everyone, and the undergraduates I've interacted with in a research setting come in two flavors: the ones who know why they should pursue research (or at least have some idea of what they are getting themselves into), and the ones who thought it would be something to do to "kill the time," or some such. Which group of students do you think made the experience worthwhile for everyone involved?
    – Mad Jack
    May 22, 2016 at 20:08

5 Answers 5


I would say, as a teacher, you can allot a project as a mandatory part of course. This project should count towards the final evaluation of the course. You need to do a bit of design and planning about the project and research idea that you want to implement. Then you may divide the work among students based on their strengths and weaknesses. You may assign one group to the whole project and assign individual modules to the students or you may create many groups and each group an individual module. Once this phase of project is over, you will be able to assess the students by their research caliber and motivate the good students for further work, which may be another project with more intensity. In addition to this, you can motivate them to go to better universities and industries for project work. This will really broaden their outlook. They will start looking beyond getting some CGPA and grabbing a job. I hope I could give you some idea :P

  • 1
    This is an excellent idea. In some of my undergraduate courses I have the students do research. How much, how deep, etc. depends on quite a few things but I do think it is a good idea for them to start "getting their feet wet" with the ideas involved.
    – earthling
    Aug 6, 2013 at 2:46
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    I think this is the best method, but even so the teacher will need to put in a LOT of effort as far as selecting the research idea and forming it - basically spoon feeding it to the students, doing ALL of the literature survey, checking in as far as progress goes multiple times a week, etc. - even more so for the more junior students. Oct 31, 2015 at 14:02

Have you considered making it some sort of contest? Students will go to astonishing lengths to win a competition. :-)

I'll give you an example. One of the undergraduate classes I teach is a C programming class, and towards the end of the term we spend a couple of weeks on performance optimization. For the corresponding assignments the students are asked to speed up a slow program given to them. Their score on those assignments depends on the speedup they are able to get, and -- here's the kicker -- if they can beat the performance of my solution they get a 20% bonus. I've seen students explore exotic data structures and algorithms, figure out how to embed hand-tuned assembly code, and teach themselves how to write multi-threaded code, just so they can say they beat the instructor. It's really terrific watching them push themselves to excel.

Your situation is almost certainly different from mine, but I think it's still fair to say that students will self-engage, and push themselves to think creatively and explore different solutions, if the motivation to excel is coming from the inside -- which is really what research is all about.

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    Careful. Competitions appeal to some students, but strongly discourage others, even among the students who are very strong.
    – JeffE
    Aug 6, 2013 at 20:40

I've discovered that an effective way to engage undergrads is to give them a tour of your lab and let them shadow a grad student or other undergrads for a few days. Speak with them as often as you can to gauge what they are interested in and let them get a feel for your research group. Handing students off to a grad student or a postdoc and not speaking to them for a month is not going to work. It would be nice if you can give them a short term goal, say a poster presentation.


One of my favorite undergraduate classes had a original research requirement, as well as a publishing requirement. Neither was very stringent; the original research requirement was that we collect some data on our own, while the publishing requirement was to provide proof of submission of a manuscript. It gave us a taste of research and publishing, which in some caes led to in-depth, sophisticate research while the students were still undergrads. Don't be afraid to make some research a requirement for your students. They will learn that they are capable of more than they thought, and it is likely that a few students will run with the opportunity and produce results that may surprise even you.


Perhaps teach it to them as doing research leads to potential publications, which in turn leads to them increasing their 'research profiles' - which will provide a great advantage for if they wish to pursue postgraduate studies, as there is often a lot of research necessary in Masters and PhD programs.

This won't necessarily get all of the students motivated (as some may not be interested in further study), but may be a stepping stone in making this a normal practice in the undergraduate course.

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