Find Projects and Apply: How to Find a UROP
You may begin a UROP any time during your academic career. Even though the semester may have already started, a UROP can start as soon as arrangements (applications, funding, registration) are complete.
Although there are no universal starting dates, UROP projects are grouped into the following time periods: fall; fall/IAP; IAP; IAP/spring; spring and summer. UROP applications including your research proposal are due by the applicable UROP deadline for the term.
Here are some helpful tips and advice to assist you in your UROP search. If you have additional questions, please feel free to consult UROP staff for advice and support in finding a UROP that is right for you.
Step 1: Examine your interests and goals
Before you begin your search and start to contact faculty members, take a moment to examine your interests, needs and goals, so that you can communicate them effectively. Professors want to know that you have the time, energy, and commitment to become a productive member of their research groups.
Preliminary questions to consider:
- Can you commit to spending 6-10 hours on UROP research per week?
- Can you afford the time away from your coursework?
- Can you work on a project for more than one term? Many faculty members want continuity in their research teams. One term may not be enough for both you and your faculty supervisor to benefit from a research collaboration.
- What area of research do you want to pursue? Do you want to explore a possible major? Gain experience in an area of interest? Exercise your creativity?
- Do you have an idea you wish to pursue, but lack a faculty mentor?
- What advanced courses have you taken? What programming languages do you know? What sort of lab research have you conducted?
- What are your hobbies? What are your academic and non-academic interests? Why you are interested in this research/field/dept.?
- What aspect of the field or problem do you hope to investigate?
Step 2: Locate available opportunities
- Browse department websites to see if UROP listings are posted, read faculty research descriptions, and look at lab websites. Make a list of those faculty with research of interest to you.
- Check the UROP Project Openings page for currently advertised positions, but know that these represent a mere fraction of available projects.
- Talk with a favorite professor after class, UROP Coordinators, friends or upperclassmen in your dorm working on projects. Also consider speaking with recitation instructors or teaching assistants who may be involved in research projects.
- Schedule an appointment to talk with UROP Staff, to discuss your particular research interests. UROP Staff can suggest faculty members conducting relevant research who you may want to approach regarding a UROP.
NOTE: many faculty members do not rely advertisements to find students--they know that undergraduates will find them through subjects, Freshman Advising Seminars, Independent Activities Period (IAP) events, or by word of mouth.
Step 3: Do your homework and get prepared
You want to establish a rapport with professors, so show interest in, and knowledge of, their field. This means that you may need to do some homework in advance.
- Read faculty web pages, CVs, research abstracts, etc. Detailed information can generally be found on the faculty member's profile page on his/her department's website. Department undergraduate offices often have information on current faculty research as well, so speak with your department's undergraduate/academic administrator.
- Review MIT News for up-to-date articles on current research projects and interviews with faculty about their projects.
- Read the professional journals relevant to your field to stay informed about research developments (MIT Libraries' Vera service provides students access to many journals free of charge).
- Prepare your resume. Most UROP supervisors will ask you to provide a resume and or references when applying for UROPs. Outside companies and potential employers will also ask for these items when you apply for jobs, so having your resume prepared in advance is a good idea. Staff in both Global Education and Career Development and the Writing & Communication Center are resources for advice on resume preparation and more.
Step 4: The Approach
Every scientist was once a novice, so when searching for a UROP project and faculty mentor, don't be daunted the first time you knock on an office door. Most faculty are experienced UROP supervisors and will be interested in talking with you. They will want to know whether you have the time and energy to take on another intellectual endeavor.
Faculty often have busy schedules, so approaching a potential faculty mentor directly after a class may not be the best time to have an involved discussion about your research plans, but a quick chat can be a great way to find out if a given professor is enthusiastic about a possible collaboration. An after-class chat may also present an opportunity to plan a future meeting to discuss UROP options in more detail.
Office hours vary for each faculty member, so it's a good idea to book an appointment, in advance. If you are simply dropping by a faculty member's office in person, try to do so during posted office hours.
Email can be another great way to make initial connections with potential mentors. Here are some tips for an email approach.
- Keep your initial correspondence brief and concise.
- Indicate your knowledge of the faculty member's research area or a specific project,
- Detail your reasons for interest in such research, your skills and qualifications and/or willingness to learn, etc.
- Request to meet with the faculty member or a member of his/her lab group to discuss potential opportunities.
Step 5: The UROP Meeting/Interview
If you did your homework, you approach potential mentors well-prepared, so feel confident in your ability to express your goals and interests.
- Leave plenty of time for your UROP meeting, which may or may not be called an interview depending upon the culture of the given lab group.
- Do not pick a meeting time that's ten minutes before you need to run to class. You want to have enough time for a productive conversation with your potential mentor.
- Remember that faculty members and researchers are people too. Don't be shy!
- Be inquisitive, and be prepared to answer questions and talk about yourself and your long term academic and career goals.
Prepare an introduction to help you begin the discussion:
- Introduce yourself (your name, class year and major or intended major).
- In a few sentences, describe your academic goals, interests, and what you hope to gain from the meeting.
- Explain your reasons for being interested in his/her research and a UROP with this group. Why do you want to work with this faculty member? What skills do you bring to the table?
Ask questions about expectations to help you determine if the project is right for you:
- Listen to what the professor/researcher has to say. Be ready to ask follow-up questions as needed to clarify the potential research you would perform.
- Discuss whether you are looking for pay, credit, or just want to volunteer. This information can help determine what project might be a good fit based on available resources.
- Explain your goals and motivations for pursuing this UROP. Internally reflect upon whether you can accomplish your goals in this group.
- Find out more about the research project. How does it relate to other work in the field. What would your specific role be?
- Ask who will assume responsibility for your supervision, especially should your research supervisor away on business (including who will approve your weekly timesheets, if a paid UROP). Will you work with the Professor or a grad student, post doc, etc?
- Ask about the group's expectations of you: How many hours per week would you be expected to be in the lab? How are absences handled (e.g. if you get sick, need time to study, have too many p-sets, need to take a day off for some reason, how do they prefer you let them know you can't make it in, do you need to obtain prior approval before taking a day off or would 24 hour notice suffice, etc.)?
- Ask about how you will be graded, if a credit UROP. Will you need to keep a lab notebook, write a end of term report, etc.?
- Ask about project deliverables. Are there expectations about what you will accomplish in a given period, is a specific end product required?
- Be realistic about your technical skills and prior experiences. Don't over-commit yourself or claim to have skills that you have yet to master (If you only have 3 free hours per week, don't commit to work 10. If you know a little bit of C, don't say that you are a fluent C programmer). What are your strengths and weakness?
Step 6: Wrap-up
Before committing to a UROP project, be sure to ask yourself: Would you be happy working on this type of project with this group?
Research collaborations should be pleasant educational experiences. If a given research project, research responsibilities, or dynamic of a certain lab group doesn't feel like a good fit for you and your interests, then continue your search until you find a project that you will enjoy and a group with whom you feel very comfortable collaborating.
If you have any questions or need additional advice along the way, UROP staff members are available to assist you. We are located in Room 7-104, and can be reached in at email@example.com or 617-253-7306.