Tips for Finding 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: Locate available opportunities
- Network! Talk with advisors, faculty, UROP Coordinators, graduate students, post-docs and other undergraduates. Speak with your recitation instructors and teaching assistants who may be involved in research projects.
- Explore advertised opportunities, but know that these represent a mere fraction of available projects - many faculty members do not rely on advertisements to find students—they know that undergraduates will find them through subjects, seminars, IAP events, or by word of mouth.
- Check department and lab websites– read about faculty research interests and look at their individual lab group pages to learn more about current projects and recent publications. Keep a running list of faculty with research of interest to you.
- Speak with UROP staff—we are happy to help and can provide faculty suggestions and other advice related to your search.
Step 2: Do your homework — Prepare for conversations with faculty
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 provide students access to many journals free of charge).
Step 3: Approaching Faculty
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.
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, 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 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 4: UROP Meeting/Interview
If you do your homework and approach potential mentors well-prepared, 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 is too close to the start of a class or other activity. 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 to clarify the potential research you would perform and potential outcomes.
- 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. 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 about mentorship and supervision. Will you work with the Professor or a grad student, post doc, etc?
- Ask about the group expectations: 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 5: 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.
Research groups vary in many ways—lab size, management styles, lab and mentor personalities, etc. so finding a lab that is a good fit is important. Research is collaborative, so don’t commit based on research interests and learning objectives alone—consider your collaboration and guidance preferences in your search.