VCU Work Study Research Assistant Program

Faculty and student work together in a lab

Are you are an undergraduate student with a federal work-study award? Are you interested in gaining research experience under the guidance of a faculty mentor?

The VCU Work-Study Research Assistant Program was designed to connect students with experiential learning opportunities through research.

Why do undergraduate research?

Engaging with undergraduate research is a valuable experience for many reasons. Participation in undergraduate research is a way to delve deeper into questions that interest you. It is also a learning experience that is highly valued by graduate schools, professional schools, and potential employers. See examples of previous undergraduate research projects.

To apply

If you currently have a federal work-study award, you can apply for research assistant postings at VCU Handshake. Log in and search for “FWS: Research Assistant”. You may apply to more than one posting if it aligns with your goals and interests. Please follow the specifications of the posting and upload all requested information, a resume will be required. It may also be useful to include a cover letter that explains why you are interested in that particular faculty member’s area of research. Only undergraduate students with work-study awards will be able to apply.

Benefits of work study

What does it mean to be a mentor?

Students often report the most important aspect of their undergraduate research experience is the relationship with the mentor.

Mentors are essential in ensuring the success of a student’s experience with research. For some students, they will serve as the first individual to intellectually stimulate them outside of the classroom.

The mentor teaches a variety of applied skills, methods and techniques that fosters curiosity and allows students to ask questions. They help students to develop critical thinking and analytical skills.

Mentors provide opportunities to collaborate on research projects and publications. They provide guidance in planning professional progress and achieving necessary milestones. Mentors train a new generation of scholars and practitioners.


Write a good job description
All positions must give the students direct experience with research or scholarship, at a level that is consistent with the student's skills and interests. These are not intended to be secretarial or other administrative support positions. We expect that you will treat the UROP Federal Work-Study Research Assistant as a full member of your research group or creative team.

A good position description will:

  • Include approximately five sentences describing the project and qualifications for the position
  • Include specific tasks and duties
  • Use reasonably nontechnical language geared toward undergraduate students
  • Include contact information, in case a student has direct questions about the position
  • Include the location at which the research will take place

Post and advertise the position
After submitting your position description, UROP will post RA positions to the Handshake website and publicize the position via our own websites. We will send you the Handshake position number within a week of posting. We also recommend that you share this position information with your students, but please be sure to communicate Work-Study eligibility requirements. You can announce the position in class, and send the description through your department student listserv. Make sure to include the Handshake position number with the description. All students must officially apply through Handshake to be hired under Federal Work-Study requirements.

Hire your UROP RA
Through Handshake, we can adjust settings so that faculty will receive applications via email from students immediately, as they apply.

Please feel free to interview all, some, or none of the applicants sent. These applicants have already demonstrated their eligibility and have been awarded Federal Work-Study funds. Any other requirements are included in the position description by the faculty.

Once faculty have interviewed and decided on a student for their position, please send an email to Herb Hill at, who will assist the students in completing all the necessary Human Resources paperwork.

Hours and schedule setting
UROP RAs can be awarded up to their respective, maximum work-study award per academic year through Financial Aid. As faculty make decisions on who to employ, please have each student share with you their individual award amounts as we do not have access to that information. Students can look up their award information by signing into their VCU eServices account and referring to the Financial Aid tab.

Schedules should be worked out between the student and the faculty member, but no student should be working later than midnight Monday through Friday. Weekend work is not permitted. Please keep in mind that the UROP RAs cannot exceed more than 20 hours per week and will be paid $11/. Student employees are paid every two weeks and may earn up to the amount of their total award. If students earn more than their award, the overage will be charged to the department that the faculty member works in. Thus, it is essential that supervisors monitor their students’ earnings. Traditionally, supervisors have required students to help them monitor the hours they work.

Timesheets and hiring process

Either the faculty mentor or the appropriate staff person in their home department must approve work-study students’ hours in VCU RealTime.

Our office will facilitate the hiring process of your work study student. This requires a federal background check in accordance with the policy of the Federal Work-Study Program and can take up to two weeks, though is typically completed much sooner.