UROP Cost Increase Lower than ExpectedBy Jeremy Hylton
New federal regulations for handling the indirect costs of doing research took effect on July 1, and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program began accepting its first regular-semester proposals under the new guidelines on Wednesday.
The new guidelines will make hiring a UROP student about 60 percent more expensive than it was last fall, but the effect has not been as catastrophic as originally anticipated.
It will be difficult to measure the new regulations' effects on the program until well into the semester, according to Norma G. McGavern, director of UROP. But McGavern is optimistic.
The new guidelines require that UROP salaries pay for employee benefits and overhead costs, which pay for indirect costs such as supporting libraries and paying utilities. But MIT created a new benefits category for UROP salaries that incurs a 6.5 percent charge instead of the 43.5 percent charge on normal employees' salaries, McGavern said.
For a student who receives a $1,000 salary during the semester, the new benefit rate means that the hiring professor will pay $1,619 instead of $2,174.
The new rate "makes a tremendous difference," McGavern said. "I'm optimistic that faculty really care deeply about UROP and will find that paying a student $1,500 instead of $950 is not that much of a hardship."
Students can turn in UROP proposals until Sept. 16 in order to ask for funding from the UROP Office.
Partial support not available
In a change from last year, UROP will not provide partial support for students who are also paid by professors. Students must either be supported entirely by UROP funds or entirely by sponsored research.
For the first time, students taking UROP for pay can also receive one unit of non-degree credit. Students must complete a UROP proposal and faculty supervisors must approve the credit.
McGavern expects the number of for-credit UROPs will increase this year, though more as a result of less money being available than of credit being offered. "Last year, we had about 600 students working for credit both fall and spring terms. It's my guess that the number is going to be maybe 700," she said.
Still, "It is important to have academic recognition or transcript recognition of UROP work," McGavern said.
UROP will also offer some faculty members discretionary money instead of helping to pay their students' salaries. "It can't be used for wages, but it can be used for a whole lot of other incidental things. Maybe they can get some equipment," McGavern said.
The discretionary funds would probably be no more than a few hundred dollars and will be decided on a case-by-case basis, McGavern said. "It's probably something we will have to give out on a hardship basis."
UROP has set aside part of its budget to use for discretionary funds, but McGavern hopes that fund-raising efforts that will start this semester will provide more money.
"President [Charles M.] Vest has written a very strong letter that will be a cover letter for an alumni fund-raiser," McGavern said. "There are other things underway to see about raising some larger funds."
Money has also been set aside to pay for the UROP mentor program that is run during Independent Activities Period. The mentor program links a new student with an upperclassman, who helps the the new student gain background in highly technical areas and prepare for a UROP in the spring term.
The new student is not paid during IAP, but the upperclassman receives a stipend of $100.
The mentor program will be very important this year, with less money to pay for UROPs, McGavern said. "Beginners will need it even more because it will help them get over that threshold of being a beginner."