Research Mentors

Graduate Students & Postdocs

Supervising the work of others is an important component of graduate students’ professional development. Most graduate students and postdocs who choose to mentor undergraduates do so for a combination of reasons, both altruistic and practical. Graduate students recognize how much they have learned in their own transitions between undergraduate and graduate work, and want to help their younger colleagues prepare for such transitions. Many graduate students and postdocs were helped along the way by important mentors, and they want to “give back” by mentoring others. Alternatively, graduate students may recognize deficiencies in their preparation for graduate school (“if only I had known…”) and want to provide timely advice. On the practical side, graduate students and postdocs report that after learning to supervise, they understand their own faculty mentors better.

The mentoring experiences help them to reflect on their teaching skills and deficiencies and help them become better professionals. The experiences can provide practical benefits in the humanities and social sciences such as review of an area of literature relevant both to the interests of the undergrad as well as a requirement for a graduate comprehensive exam. In the sciences, the practical benefits can extend to one or more additional co-authored publications as a consequence of the undergraduate project, in addition to demonstrating one’s abilities to manage the work of others.

Graduate Research Consultant (GRC) Program

One great way to mentor undergraduates is to become a Graduate Research Consultant (GRC). We compensate advanced graduate students (the GRCs) to work with instructors and undergraduate students during the concentrated period of many Research Exposure courses, when the students are planning, carrying out and communicating their research. Some faculty also choose to involve their GRC in the planning/designing of the research project.

Graduate students and postdocs play important roles in mentoring undergraduate research at UNC-Chapel Hill. You might help students learn to do research while teaching a class or recitation section, while consulting with students during office hours, by assisting students in labs, or by finding a way that students can get involved in helping you do your research.

A GRC can provide faculty and classes invaluable support by guiding students through their research projects from beginning to end. They can help students learn particular research methodologies and be available for consultation throughout the semester. Some faculty also choose to involve their GRC in the planning/designing of the research project.

GRC Program Expectations and Compensation

GRCs are expected to work 30 hours over the course of the semester and are paid $1000 through the Office for Undergraduate Research. Depending on the source of funding for your particular position, GRCs are paid in two installments of $500 in November and December or April and May.

Some fellowships and other funding sources do not permit recipients to engage in additional paid work; it is a graduate student’s responsibility to determine if you are able to receive funding as a GRC.

GRC Program Roles and Responsibilities

There are also many responsibilities associated with mentoring an undergraduate. Initially, it is important to consider how to connect the project with what the student already knows, and how to instill an intellectual interest in the work. The mentor and mentee need to agree on both the work schedule and also on how the work will be supervised and evaluated. Although the faculty advisor is ultimately responsible for adhering to university guidelines regarding laboratory safety and research with human subjects, it is important for the graduate mentor to understand the requirements and helping the undergraduate to understand them also.

How GRCs are Selected

Faculty members select GRCs based on the instructor’s assessment of the needs of the course. The Office for Undergraduate Research does not assign or approve the selection other than confirming that the graduate student is eligible to be paid. Many faculty members choose a GRC outside their own department to provide complementary expertise. Graduate students who are interested in serving as GRCs can also be found by searching the GRC interest database.

Process for Faculty to Request a GRC

To receive OUR funding for a GRC for your course, we ask that you submit an online proposal. You may find it helpful to preview the application. The turnaround time for a decision on the proposal is approximately one two after the application deadline. If your proposal is accepted, we will fund the graduate student you select to be the GRC for your course. Generally, one application per instructor will be funded, but more than one may be submitted.

Application Deadlines

Applications received by these deadlines will receive full consideration. Applications received after these deadlines will not be considered.

  • For fall courses: July 15
  • For spring courses: November 1
  • For summer courses: March 8

Please note that generally only one application per instructor will be funded, but more than one may be submitted

Process for Graduate Students to become a GRC

You can participate in the GRC program as GRC for a specific undergraduate course. Individual faculty members find and select their own GRCs, so you can encourage a faculty member in your department to submit a GRC course proposal for a new or existing course, and offer to be the course GRC if the proposal is funded. In addition, you may register your interest with OUR and the GRC Program by submitting the online GRC Interest Form. This will place your name in the GRC Interest Database, where faculty may search for possible GRCs.

If you are selected to serve as a GRC, the faculty member will communicate your name to OUR staff. Funding for the GRC program comes from many sources.

Distinction between a GRC and a TA

There are several ways in which a GRC is different from a TA. The major difference is that a GRC “coaches” students, but does not grade their work. The GRC has extended knowledge in research methodology. Additionally, a GRC does not attend all of the class sessions. Instead, GRCs can be available for individual or group consultation outside of class hours or they might attend selected classes. In rare instances, a graduate student might serve as both a GRC and a TA, if the different roles in the course are clearly defined.

Feedback from Past GRCs and Instructors

  • My experience as a GRC was exciting—to have a role in allowing students to develop their own field work…for me it was exciting to see how that might work and to see what kind of support you might need for that to be successful…it was rewarding for me. It was also challenging. It helped me to know, if I were to implement [a research component] in my own course in the future how I might go about structuring it.
  • It was a great experience to work with undergrad students. It was fantastic to be able to see how the professor set up his class to include these group research projects. More than anything else, I saw a way of how to get undergrads involved in and excited about research.
  • …I was really drawing on her [the GRC’s] expertise with having worked in this kind of project. Because I’m trained as a historian, I’m aware of a lot of methodologies, but I haven’t actually participated in—especially things that kind of bordered on empirical. She knows the literature a lot more in that regard. So it was invaluable to me to have somebody like that.
  • I think there’s always an advantage of having that graduate student/faculty collaboration on a class both for the role model potential and for somebody the students to feel there’s somebody else to go to besides the faculty member.

Recognizing Graduate Student Contributions to OUR

OUR currently offers the following ways to recognize graduate student and postdoctoral mentors:

Additional Ways for Graduate Students to Be Part of OUR

Beyond the GRC Program, there are a variety of additional opportunities to contribute your expertise throughout the year in workshops and symposia organized by the OUR (such as teaching undergraduates how to prepare a talk or a poster, and offering advice to undergraduates on finding a research mentor and developing a summer fellowship proposal, in addition to advice about graduate school and career choices). If you have an interest in such “one-time” activities, please contact us at our@unc.edu.