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UROP Participation Declines Slightly; New Program Begun

By Sonali Rohatgi

Due to funding cuts, the total number of students participating in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program declined since last year, but the decline has been offset in part by a new corporate research program.

The UROP Office, in an effort to create more paid UROP options for students, has started the Undergraduate Corporate Research Fellows program that will allow companies to fund student research projects approved and supervised by faculty members.

The actual drop in the number of students performing UROPs was not as large as expected, said UROPDirector Norma McGavern. This is because the number of faculty members hiring UROP students has not decreased. However, professors took on less for-pay UROP students. Students can get paid UROP jobs from either the UROP Office or the lab or department they work for. UROPs can also be taken for credit or on a volunteer basis.

The future of the program has been uncertain in light of an increased charge for overhead costs. UROP availability was very discouraging during the fall 1994 term, right after federal regulations requiring UROPfunding to pay for indirect costs and employee benefits went into effect.

Departments report little change

UROP coordinator in the Department of Political Science Tobie F. Weiner said that there had been a drop in the number of student UROPs in the department. This is partly because political science professors do not have as much access to funding as other departments. In addition, "students need money" and prefer UROPs for pay, Weiner said.

The number UROP students in the Department of Material Science and Engineering has remained fairly constant, said departmental UROP coordinator David K. Roylance.

Even with the higher overhead charges, "UROPs are still quite economical compared to research assistants," Roylance said. Roylance's own decision to take on UROP students has not been affected in any way by the addition of overhead charges.

"If funding was available for the project in the first place, having a UROP on the project doesn't add all that much to the overall budget," Roylance said.

Roylance said he did "have some colleagues -- not many, really -- who simply find the overhead charges philosophically objectionable and have stopped hiring UROPs for that reason."

Because of limited funding, the Department of Biology decided last year to no longer offer any for-pay UROPs during the fall and spring semesters. Professor of Biology Gene M. Brown, the UROP coordinator for the department, said that "things haven't changed a whole lot."

"Most biology majors are quite willing to take UROPs for credit," because the department allows students to use UROP credit to satisfy part of their laboratory requirement, Brown said.

Companies to help fund UROPs

The UROP Office has initiated the Undergraduate Corporate Research Fellows program to allow companies to fund full-year research projects.

According to the office, companies can fund a research project "with a particular design or product outcome in mind" over a full academic year. The program would cost the company $9,475 per student, which would include the student's stipend, the cost of materials, and administrative expenses.

A company also has the option to ask a student to perform more "exploratory or broad-based research" in an area of interest to the company. This kind of project would cost the company $8,260.

The program is meant mainly for juniors and seniors who are willing to work throughout the academic year, including the Independent Activities Period.

The initial impact of the program will probably not be too significant, McGavern said.

Only a handful of undergraduates are currently in the program. The expansion and impact of the program will depend on the amount of interest companies show in sponsoring research, said UROPAdministrator Debbie H.Shoap.

Individual departments are also trying to help students obtain for-pay UROPs. In particular, some of the smaller departments are attempting to use departmental money in order to fund students that faculty cannot support as a way to attract people to the major, Shoap said.

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering "provides departmental funds for freshmen in UROPs who demonstrate superior performance in MIT work to date," Roylance said.