I have some undergraduate students doing research in my lab, and I pay them by the hours. I’ve observed that the students usually do what I tell them and don’t go beyond that (as we usually expect from research) even though I encourage them to do so. They also work exactly the assigned hours (says 10 hours/week). You know, like the regular employees in a company, not like a researcher in academia.

I discussed this with other faculty members in my department, and some of them told me that I have been doing it wrong. That I should not pay the students (except during the summer) as this job is for them to have research experience and learn research skills. Only the students who are really interested in doing and learning research will volunteer to work in the lab for free, and these are the students we want in the lab, not the students who (mainly / only) work for the compensation. And my colleagues told me that they had very few undergraduate students working in their labs for free, but those have been very good students who would co-author papers and continue to graduate schools (Master or PhD).

On the other hand, I’ve heard from some good undergraduate students (in terms of GPA and technical skills) that they would never work an unpaid position.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. Am I doing it wrong? I’m not cheap, but if paying the students to do research results in wrong motivation and expectation for them, and if not paying them is a good filtering mechanism to select good students, maybe I should do that.

What do you think? Do you have any good strategy to have good undergraduate students doing research in your lab?

Btw, I’m in the US.

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