Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program
The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) allows undergraduate students to join a laboratory on campus for academic credit or pay. They can work on existing research or new projects proposed by the student or supervising professor.
UROPs allow students to learn about academic departments, prepare for graduate work or careers, and meet other members of the MIT community within their field of interest.
Finding a UROP Project
A listing of project openings may be found on the official UROP website. However, many UROP projects are obtained by directly contacting a professor whether or not positions are advertised, and consequently certain professors do not list their openings. Students are expected to initiate contact with professors performing research they are interested in.
Departments may have separate sites to list UROP opportunities, such as the MechE Thesis/UROP Opportunities (M.E.T.U.) site.
Once an interested professor has been contacted, a meeting will be arranged to determine whether the student and project are a good fit. If so, expectations for the semester are agreed upon and a proposal is sent to the UROP office.
Life as a UROP Student
UROP students often work closely with graduate students or postdocs and are expected to meet regularly with the professor. They perform experiments, help design and build new technology, or write code inside the laboratory. Work may be collaborative, or the student may be given a task and then check in periodically with a supervisor.
The time commitment is established by the student and professor at the beginning of the project and varies greatly between UROPs. 6-10 hours per week is common during an academic semester, and summer UROP projects are often full-time.
- Pay: Students are paid by the hour through their laboratory (sponsored funding) or the UROP office (direct funding).
- Credit: Students receive an agreed upon number of general elective credits.
- Volunteer: Students can work as a volunteer when a smaller commitment is desired.
UROP students publish papers and attend conferences when performing substantive research, and an ongoing project can become the student's thesis. The experience and connections gained are valuable to starting a related career, though projects do not need to be within the student's major. Graduate schools look for research experience in students' applications and UROPs provide such experience.
Most first-time UROP applicants will get funding through the UROP office for any decent UROP proposal. Starting pay is about 9.50/hour. Some labs will fund you themselves right away, and others will encourage you to seek funding through the UROP office first.
International Research Opportunities (IROP)
Beginning in 2006, MIT institutionalized something that had been happening for a long time: undergraduate research overseas.It was formally dubbed International Research Opportunities (IROP).
IROPs generally take place over the summer. Conducted IROP projects represent a broad spectrum of research areas and interests, from particle physics studies at the CERN facilities in Geneva, Switzerland, to biological engineering research in collaboration with the Chulabhorn Research Institute (CRI) in Bangkok, Thailand. In summer 2010, IROP research also took place in: Chile, China, France, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Singapore, South Africa, Trinidad, Uganda, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
History of UROP
The the fall of 1969, Prof. Margaret L. A. MacVicar was charged with establishing the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, one of the earliest (perhaps the earliest) programs of its kind in the United States to invite undergraduates to participate in research as the junior colleagues of university faculty. In that first term, UROP had but a few dozen participants, but today thousands of MIT students will participate in a given year.
The creation of UROP was inspired by an influential speech titled "Generations of Greatness: The Idea of a University in an Age of Science" made by Edwin H. Land, President of the Polaroid Corporation, on May 22, 1957. In that speech, Land advocated the import of undergraduates obtaining "hands on" experience by "pursuing personal research projects."
To this day, UROP invites all undergraduates to participate in each phase of research activity as the junior colleagues of faculty members. Students assist in writing research proposals, developing a research plan, conducting actual research, analyzing the data, and presenting the results in oral and written form. Students and the faculty supervisors are required to submit separate evaluations of the experience at the end of each term or summer period. UROP projects are available throughout the academic year and summer and can take place in any academic department or interdisciplinary laboratory.
Initially, students participated for academic credit or as volunteers, but a paid UROP option was soon introduced and UROP quickly became a very popular program with active student and faculty participation.
In 1972, an off-campus UROP program was introduced and faculty and student end of term evaluations became mandatory.
By 1981, UROP reported to the Office of the Provost and the majority of funding for paid UROPs came from faculty-sponsored research grants. Each department and laboratory was also assigned a UROP coordinator responsible for interpreting the department's UROP requirements, ensuring the academic rigor of projects, reviewing submitted UROP proposals, advising students, and facilitating research opportunities, etc.
In 1985, Prof. MacVicar became the Dean of Undergraduate Education maintained her oversight of UROP operations.
In 1993, UROP began an IAP mentoring program that linked students who had never undertaken a UROP project (Pre-UROPers) with experienced UROP student mentors. The objective was twofold: to provide experience for students who wanted to begin a UROP project, but lacked background in a highly technical area/were not ready to make a formal commitment to a project; and to give upperclass students practice in teaching beginners.
In 1994, new overhead regulations effectively doubled the cost of undergraduate researchers for faculty members funding UROP research through research grants. UROP officials of the time "thought it would have a traumatic effect" and would lead to large cuts in the program, but thanks to the efforts of some dedicated UROP students successfully lobbied for waivers for undergraduate researchers enabling UROP to continue to thrive.
Today, 85% of graduating seniors will have participated in UROP at least once during their undergraduate years and well over half of the MIT faculty serve as faculty supervisors, including six of MIT's current faculty Nobel Laureates.