The 0-Credit Research Option


The 0-Credit Research Option

We received an inquiry from an undergrad about registering for a 0-credit research option.

For those of you in departments without this option, a 0-credit option often allows a student to list research experience on their transcript, but doesn't require the student to pay tuition or fees to do so. The 0-credit option doesn't factor into a student's GPA, and typically doesn't count towards major requirements or electives.

From the feedback we've received, the 0-credit option is becoming more common in departments and colleges that want to track how many students are involved in undergraduate research, for how long, and to ensure that safety training is completed. Many research mentors and new undergrads in the lab use the 0-credit option to give the flexibility of a volunteer position while maintaining compliance with their institution.

Although there are many things to consider while determining whether or not to register for research credit, this inquiry was only about the 0-credit option.We've edited it here for brevity and to maintain the student's anonymity:

I was wondering if you could answer a question I have about research credit. I'm currently volunteering in a research lab, and my professor assigned me to the 0 credit research class... However, I would like to know if you think it's better to take the 1 credit over the 0 credit class and why.

Dear Undergrad In The Lab,

Undergrads in my lab have been volunteers without official credit, taken research for credit that factored into their GPA, and have taken the 0-credit options. Most students choose a combination of those options during their time in the lab, and most end up registering for the maximum number of credits that can be applied towards their degree.

Keep in mind, however, that most of my undergrads stay in the lab for more than two academic years so there is plenty of time to incorporate all options. Sometimes, a student is required to register for credit. For example, if a student wishes to write a senior research thesis then registering for the related research credits is mandatory.

Ultimately, what is best for you will depend on your short- and long-term goals.

I recommend that you speak with your academic advisor for specific advice on how taking research for credit can benefit you. Then put a long-term plan together that includes how many research credits you can take in total, and when it would be most appropriate or advantageous in your undergrad career to register for GPA-research credit.

After you have a solid understanding of your options, if you feel that it would be better for you to have GPA credit for research, revisit the conversation with your PI. This is not disrespectful if you do it in a professional manner.

To start the conversation, either email your PI or say to them directly: “I would like to register for X research credits in the X semester because it will help me reach my academic goals. Will that be possible?”

Please keep in mind that professors are keenly aware of the costs students pay to get their education. Because your department does not allow undergraduates to volunteer for research, it could be that your PI wants you to save the money of paying for credits, but still wants you to gain the advantages of having research listed on your transcript. It could also be that your PI wants you to have an out that won't cause an issue for your financial aid or GPA if you realize that you're overcommitted during the semester, or dislike the project and wish to leave the lab mid-semester. These are likely the reasons the 0-credit option exists in your department.

If you do register for GPA credit, be aware that your department might require you to write a research pre-proposal or an end-of-semester report, require your participation in a research symposium, or have other tasks tied to taking research for credit. Before you ask your PI if you can register, make sure you know what your department requires and make sure you’ll able to uphold those commitments.

I’m glad that you are an advocate for your education. By doing so, you’ll be much more likely reach all of your goals—personal, professional, and academic.