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By Nancy L. Keuss


UROP stipends may never compare with what’s offered at a big company or consulting firm. But effective Sept. 5, MIT undergraduate researchers are getting a raise.

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program’s hourly rate will increase from $8.00 to $8.75. For students awarded direct funding from UROP, stipends will rise to $1,200 in the fall and spring semesters and $4,150 in the summer.

“I think it’s about time they increased the rate. The UROP I participated in was as demanding as a full time job, yet paid barely above minimum wage for MIT. The 75 cents will really add up,” said Chidinma C. Obi ’04.

“Endowment has increased for the UROP program, and this increase in financial support to the program will be greatly beneficial in helping us to increase wages,” said Assistant Dean for Academic and Research Initiatives Michael Bergren.

Given the increased endowment income, combined with gifts and Institute funds, the UROP office has projected a 2001-2002 year budget -- including summer 2002 -- of approximately $1.1 million, the office’s largest budget ever.

More financial pressures on MIT students, coupled with the fact that the rate had remained unchanged for two years, also prompted the payrate increase. The decision to raise wages was made by UROP staff and approved by the Dean for Undergraduate Research Kim Vandiver.

The hourly rate was last changed in 1999, when it increased from $7.50 to $8.00.

“We came up with a reasonable figure based on careful analysis, resources from our budget, and the economy,” Bergren said.

Faculty members fund about 73 percent of paid UROPs. In the 2000-2001 school year, approximately $5.5 million in faculty and department funds were allocated to support student research. Faculty supervisors using their own funds to support UROP workers must pay an hourly wage of at least $8.75.

“Historically, the average hourly rate paid to UROPers from faculty funds has been slightly higher than the UROP minimum rate,” said UROP Program Coordinator Melissa J. Martin. All on-campus work is subject to the MIT minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Bergen said it was expected that the minimum student pay rate, determined by the Student Employment Office, would increase this year.

“Because the UROP academic program is a very highly respected program, we think a higher rate, above minimum wage, lends it some cache,” said Bergren. “And it’s appropriate for the type of work students are doing to be able to get a fair wage.”

“Obviously, UROPers will like it, but personally, when I UROPed, it wasn’t for the money,” said Kenneth K. Lu G. “I’d imagine that the money is generally more of a perk than any significant source of income anyway.”

Faculty and departments were notified of the pay rate change in late May and again in June.

The UROP office allocated funding to approximately 627 projects during the 2000-2001 school year, including summer 2001.

“I think [the increase] is good,” said UROP participant Filip S. Antic ’03. “It could motivate more students to take advantage of the UROP program. At the same time, it doesn’t directly affect me, as I have additional funding from my lab.”

“If you think of a student working during the fall and spring for approximately $1200 each semester, who then continues to UROP during the summer earning approximately $4,150, that’s a sizeable sum of money for a year,” Martin said. “Hopefully, this funding will help students satisfy their self-help requirements, tuition costs and living expenses.”