I must say that I was quite surprised to read the recent guest column by Robert Ragno [“UROP Troubling,” Oct. 8]. In it, he essentially equates UROP with a program of child labor, and implies that UROP’s primary purpose is to provide cheap mental and physical labor to support faculty research at the detriment to other more qualified people. Having had a UROP myself, supervised UROPs as a graduate student, and now supervising UROPs as a faculty member, I feel I must voice my disagreement with his position.
I have always considered UROP to be ultimately an educational program, not a research program. UROP provides a means by which undergraduates can experience what research is like, and, as importantly, it is a means by which graduate students can gain valuable experience in managing others and delegating responsibility. At least in my lab, I have always found UROP to be significantly more important in terms of an educational experience for the undergraduate and graduate students than as a means by which to get research done. In fact, I think it is often the case that the additional overhead of mentoring the undergraduates outweighs the additional work that is performed. I never treat hiring a UROP as a way to get more work done, but rather as an additional outlet for teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The fact that students can get paid for their effort is simply a way of helping UROP compete against other methods of student employment. Many students must work to support themselves -- why can’t they be performing some research and learning skills at the same time?
James K. Kuchar ‘90
Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics