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UROP students are not stupid

September 11, 2011

While undergrads have little or no practical experience in laboratory techniques and often make what one may perceive to be mistakes of epic proportions, they are not stupid.  Therefore, when advising an undergraduate student, it is best to make sure that the ways in which they can expect to benefit professionally from doing good work are made explicitly clear.  They are inexperienced – and you are providing training and experience – but they are not dumb and will not stay to assist you in taking over the world if they don’t see what they are going to get out of the deal.  Even though the benefits of working for me are blindingly obvious, I make sure that I remind my minions often of how their servitude is beneficial to them.  Here are two of the (many) very obvious benefits of doing a UROP.

The clearest benefit, regardless of individual career aspirations, is a good personalized letter of recommendation from an established professor.  Everyone knows this, even undergrads, but what they don’t know is that I (and my PI) expect to write letters of recommendation for them for the rest of our lives, whenever one may be required.  Because they have worked hard towards forwarding my science and therefore my career, I do not mind and even enjoy (given appropriate advance notice and all the relevant information) writing these letters to help advance their careers.  I make sure that my trainees know that I am happy to write (or ghost-write) letters of recommendation forever.

Another benefit is that undergrad research programs typically feature a CV line generating mechanism through summer research award funding, undergraduate conference travel awards, intramural poster sessions (with prizes for best poster) and departmental “best UROP ever” awards.  Many of these are associated with small sums of money that will allow you to keep your student working for you without having to pay them.  While most UROPs will apply for and get the summer research fellowships, many will not take advantage of the other programs.  I keep myself informed about these kinds of opportunities and help my trainees apply and participate.  We celebrate when they receive any such awards and make sure that they add that line to their CV’s immediately.  That’s one of the many reasons why working for me for free is an excellent career move.

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  1. WTF is UROP? Like the blog by the way.

    • UROP stands for Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, but in local parlance, it’s used to refer to the person participating in such a program as well. We even go so far as to pronounce it as a word. Thanks for stopping by!

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