Preparation for a UROP

Plan it with your supervisor

  • While planning a UROP should seek to achieve all that is possible before the planned start date you should be mindful that the reality of the research environment, which is after all a workplace, can restrict the amount of preparation which is possible. Things can also change at short notice and your supervisor may have to react and makes changes to what was planned. You need to be at ease with these possibilities.
  • Please remember that UROP is a voluntary activity on the part of academic staff (and their research groups/area/collaborators) and we ask you to show patience with your supervisor in the lead up to the planned start date.

Manage expectations

  • It is very important that levels of expectation on both sides are set at realistic levels.
  • Read a selection of Student Perspectives to get a feel for a UROP experience.
  • Perhaps your own assessment of your own capabilities or your overall enthusiasm might have you setting your sights on work that is too complex or covers too much ground in the time available. Equally, your supervisor needs to be realistic in what can be achieved. In planning your UROP you and your supervisor need to be realistic. You should be enthusiastic for what is offered not for what you think ought to be offered.
  • In return for being realistic ahead of a UROP, a supervisor will be better able to recognise when perhaps the UROP can be stepped up to another level or the pace eased. It is very important that the UROP is a beneficial experience to you, and that you are neither overstretched nor underworked unnecessarily. This is where the supervisory structure we would expect a supervisor to put in place would help to make the difference in achieving a beneficial (and hopefully successful) research experience.
  • For the most part students join research teams, and therefore effective planning which ensures both parties’ expectations are discussed and managed both before and during the UROP is to everyone’s benefit, including the other members of group/area you will join, which may include other UROP participants.

What will you be doing?

  • While many students do carry out a specific project, with a beginning, middle and an end, it might be the case that you would join an on-going piece of research and learn about it by helping with it in various ways.
  • Some supervisors use UROP as an opportunity to try something speculative, while others will be looking to utilise you with existing work.

Dates and hours of attendance

Dates

  • You and your supervisor will probably have considered this before provisionally agreeing to plan a UROP together. Ultimately your supervisor must agree, and to do so before the host department approves and submits the UROP Registration Form to the UROP Team.
  • It is reasonable to ask your supervisor to take the need for a holiday into account, especially for any UROP which will last more than 8 weeks and indeed the content of a UROP (availability of supervision, availability of equipment or natural breaks in the work envisaged, for example) may lend itself to being undertaken in 2 or even 3 periods.
  • However, it would be unreasonable to expect a supervisor to agree to a significant break at short notice. You are advised to map out your plans before agreeing to dates.

Hours of Attendance (on the project; actual physical presence)

  • will be determined by your supervisor and you must be in agreement before the host department approves and submits the UROP Registration Form to the College Registry (although it is recorded on the registration).
  • A UROP is best pursued by being physically present alongside the researchers in you discipline. However, space constraints in the host department may mean that you need to work remotely for part of the UROP. This should be kept to a minimum, and preferably be on site (using library facilities for example) although this does not rule out you working from "home" if that makes more sense.

See also the next TAB on supervision.

Supervision/feedback/integration

As with all working collaborations it is essential that you are told about how you will be supervised.

Supervision

All UROPs should have a named academic supervisor (this must be reaffirmed by the host department in the “registration”) although a different day-to-day supervisor(s) can be involved especially if the “academic supervisor” is juggling their own attendance around other work, conferences and holidays (often the case when the UROP is scheduled for Imperial College's summer vacation). You should expect the named supervisor to brief any further person who will supervise you as to what is expected of them.

In discussing the UROP with your supervisor you may wish to seek insight into when you can expect close supervision (e.g. initial phases when learning new techniques etc; throughout perhaps when you using hazardous materials or equipment) but equally as to when your supervisor will expect you to work on your own with minimal supervision and less guidance? This may be quite a general discussion, so perhaps don;t expect too much detail prior to your UROP commencing, but it is good to think about these aspects. It will be a learning curve for you, but also for your supervisor(s) as they learn and assess your capabilities.

Feedback

Feedback on your progress during the UROP is naturally very important so ensure you meet agree before, or at the very least at the start of the UROP, as to the method (in person; phone; skype) and regularity of supervisory meetings. As an academic, your supervisor will not need to be reminded as to the importance of supervision.

How regular you meet with your supervisor will depend on the complexity of the UROP and perhaps also on how you and the supervisor have interacted whilst planning the UROP. A supervisor may just have a preferred framework for supervision (from fixed weekly meetings to “hey, just knock on my door anytime”!)  You should also expect your supervisor to inform you as to when they will be away during your UROP.

If you expect to be subject to day-to-day supervision by another member of the group, or be working in a team (perhaps with other UROP students) then that, of course, adds extra dimensions to your supervision often the good of the whole experience.

Integration

Any supervisor should know that the success of a UROP collaboration can often rest on how well the student feels they are fitting in with the research group/area (regardless of size), so we encourage your integration into the day-to-day occurances (e.g. research group meetings, journal clubs, coffee breaks etc) and to offer you the chance to participate in any social happenings.

Is groundwork required?

  • You and your supervisor are at liberty to decide upon any background reading, skills development or perhaps preparation of data or materials before your UROP starts.
  • This is often a good way for the supervisor to begin to appreciate your abilities and your level of motivation. It allows the supervisor to consider how best to utilise your skills and enthusiasm when the main research experience period commences.
  • It is important that any groundwork you do does not impact on your degree studies, and your supervisor will naturally be conscious of this so you should not expect any groundwork to be extensive.
  • There may also be paperwork which can be done in advance, for example, occupational health in labs that have strict protocols to follow.

Who will you interact with?

Get to know the people you will be interacting with

  • It will help you settle into the research area/group you will be part of if, as ought to be possible for Imperial College students, you acquaint yourself with them beforehand.
  • Is the UROP going to be taking place where you expected it to. Perhaps it will take place in a building, or indeed a campus, which is not where the bulk of staff in the host department are located.
  • Arrange to meet relevant staff who you will be involved with or who you might need to call upon for assistance, such as research associates, lab technicians and technical services managers. If your supervisor intends delegating day-to-day responsibility for you to a graduate student or another member of academic staff, make sure you speak to them beforehand to introduce yourself. Of course, this may not always be possible and in truth this is what Day 1 of your UROP and the first week are for but you can never be overprepared!
  • Generally speaking, do some homework as to the research group operates on a day to day basis and what is acceptable and what is not in terms of attire, coffee breaks etc. A good person to speak to is the administrator for the relevant research group.
  • Of course, if you are not an Imperial College undergraduate this may not be easy to achieve, although friendly emails (not too many!) can help break the ice ahead of your arrival. Anything to help your confidence! Do what you can!