UROP is MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.
This landmark project invites undergraduates to join faculty as research partners, providing them with an educational experience that extends far beyond the classroom. UROP gives MIT students the chance to investigate an area of interest, get to know faculty one-on-one, learn about a potential major, gain practical skills and knowledge for a career or graduate school, and be involved in cutting-edge research.
Now 34 years old, the program has served as a model for other universities across the world –– from the Universities of Minnesota, Colorado, and California to the Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine in London. The project was inspired by the inventor of instant photography, Edwin H. Land, who believed in the power of learning by doing, and who saw untapped research potential in our students. But its original champion was Paul E. Gray, ’54, who at the time was MIT associate provost and later served as chancellor, president, and chairman of the Corporation. In 1969, Dr. Gray and the late Margaret L. A. MacVicar, professor of physics, dean for undergraduate education and UROP founding director, worked together to make the program a reality.
Since its inception, UROP has made it possible for thousands of MIT undergraduates to pursue original research and work closely with eminent faculty, often in a team with graduate or postdoctoral students as well. Students say they love it because they serve as junior colleagues of faculty, and faculty say they love it because students are inventive, enthusiastic researchers.
UROP allows undergraduates to participate in faculty research in virtually every field of study at the Institute, including 72 departments, labs, and centers. There are UROP projects in cancer research, robotics, artificial intelligence, tissue engineering, quantum computing, sustainable development, financial engineering, curricular innovation, market research, political policy, oral history, genetic research, and more. These projects personalize education, deepen students’ understanding and excitement for discovery, and make it possible for them to see the practical application of theoretical concepts.
UROP is now the largest undergraduate research program in the country. About 80 percent of all MIT undergraduate students participate in UROP during their years at the Institute, and each year more than 50 percent of the faculty participate, including Nobel prizewinners. Undergraduates can either join ongoing faculty research projects or strike out on their own to pursue personal academic endeavors or inventions. All students participate in every phase of research: writing proposals, establishing research protocol, conducting actual research, analyzing data, and presenting results.
Participants take on projects for academic credit or for pay, and while some projects last one semester, many continue for a year or more. During the fall and spring, students work part-time up to 25 hours per week; however, during the January Independent Activities Period and during the summer, they work a full-time schedule of 40 hours a week. UROP has been so successful in preparing students to do real-world research that two years ago, the School of Engineering developed a complimentary program that emphasizes practice. The Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP) is an initiative for engineering sophomores. It prepares them for jobs in industry and government and gives them opportunities to gain engineering and business skills while actually working in the field.
UROP is one of MIT’s most successful educational innovations. It is one of our greatest attractions for students, and we consider it to be one of our greatest contributions to the art and science of teaching. UROP provides students with an important component of the remarkable education that has made MIT a symbol of excellence across the world. These student-faculty collaborations not only give students job experience, confidence, and great recommendations but also inspire students to find excellence within themselves.
Charles M. Vest