What is the prime motivation/incentive for people to supervise undergraduate projects? Students want the degree obviously, but what do the supervisors get? Is there some incentive? Are undergraduate supervisors paid per project as well? I am an undergraduate computer science student. We mostly make applications and computer programs as final year projects.

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    Institutions vary, but often the answer is "none, but their department expects them to do it anyway". Dec 8 '13 at 18:20
  • Are you working on a project completely irrelevant with the supervisor's research interest, or are you working on part of his project? Dec 8 '13 at 22:24
  • It might look good on grant applications.
    – Kallus
    Dec 9 '13 at 3:03
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    @Wasim It is OK to let an undergrad work on one's own academic project and it happens most of the time. An undergrad is just like a FREE grad student. You may want to (very politely) ask him if there is any possibility of a compensation, and I know some undergrad do get paid. Some prof even post adds publicly to recruit undergrads. It won't be a lot of money. Dec 9 '13 at 4:08
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    @XiaoleiZhu Undergrads are not free. Even when they don't cost money, they cost time.
    – JeffE
    Dec 9 '13 at 5:00

Sometimes undergraduate projects can form an extended talent scouting, looking for good matches of personality and interests for future graduate students.

  • Ohh, that is clever. Dec 12 '13 at 13:35

Beyond a general desire to train students to be good researchers, a few of the benefits of undergraduate supervision for the academic include:

  • Workload: Some departments have a workload model with various degrees of formality. In such models, supervising undergraduate projects would count towards an overall workload. Thus, if you preferred supervising undergraduate projects to some other tasks such as teaching or various service roles, you could do a little more. In a similar way there might be a default expectation that each member of academic staff take on a certain number of undergraduate students.

  • Facilitating research: Some undergraduate research is publishable. Thus, the research can contribute to the academic's research track record. Obviously undergraduate students don't usually have the research skills of a PhD student and the time frame is shorter. That said, with proper design of projects and some work by the supervisor, it's often possible to get a publishable research project or perhaps a piece of a publishable project. In other cases, merely supervising a project keeps the supervisor thinking about a project.

  • Identifying potential doctoral students: It provides an opportunity to get to know a student and identify those with particular research talents. Such students may consider doing a PhD.


In community/junior colleges, faculty members may be offered a small fee for supervising student's honors projects. In my experience, most of those who agree to do this put in far more work than would be covered by the stipend. Although some may agree to supervise projects just because they are expected to, most do so because they enjoy working individually with motivated and talented students.

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