Ways to Do Research

What are the ways I can do research?

Research can be pursued through coursework, jobs such as research assistantships and internships, summer programs, or as volunteer work. Some students participate in formalized research programs, but you can also craft your own path independently and receive Duke support through credit, grants, and fellowships.

Most departments in Arts & Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering have research-intensive courses (coded R) that provide an introduction to the methodologies and approaches of the discipline. Students also enroll in Research Independent Study in order to engage fully in a mentored research project. The rules and requirements for Independent Study in each department vary - consult with the department's Director of Undergraduate Study for advice on the best way to get started. A successful independent study may lead to Graduation with Distinction.

Undergraduate research can also be conducted as volunteer or paid experiences working as a research assistant. And some internships have a strong research component. Immersive research experiences can also be had in a summer project, either through group programs or individual projects. Many such programs and fellowships are available at Duke through the opportunities link.

For Credit or Pay?

Keep in mind that when a student’s research is supported through a salary, stipend, or fellowship, the student cannot also earn academic credit—but some programs offer a combination of paid research work (during the summer) and for credit research (during the academic year). Duke does not offer a co-op program where students work in industry and receive both salary and credit.

When should I start?

You have the option to explore research as early as your freshman year, but most students will wait until their sophomore, junior, or senior year to get started in independent studies, after they’ve laid a foundation in their major. An early engagement is valuable, but each student must decide what's the right schedule for them.

Many students explore industry internships during their summers, and find that these experiences influence their choice of courses and career interests. It’s a great way to figure out if a chosen career path is for you. A research assistantship through a paid position or a work-study job is also an excellent way to get started.

If you are interested in conducting research for academic credit that leads to recognition or honors credential at graduation—such as Graduation with Distinction or Grand Challenge Scholar designation—you need to plan your path with your advisor. For example, Graduation with Distinction is awarded on the basis of a senior honors thesis, but the research for the thesis can begin well before the senior year.