How to actually apply for UROP
OK, so you have given your situation a lot of thought.
You are sure of your motivations and you have considered who you might approach, checked your availability etc.
The first thing to remind students of is that UROP (the scheme) does not handle applications for research experiences and UROP does not do the placing.
You must make enquiries direct with a member of academic/research staff. There is no general deadline for applications.
You also need to remember that academic/research staff get involved in UROP on a voluntary basis.
However, many research experiences in favoured/popular research disciplines are confirmed (between a student and a member of staff) very early especially where they are advertised well ahead of time by members of staff (most often they are advertised within individual depts, and therefore are often visible only to Imperial College undergraduates).
Therefore, planning ahead is very important if you want to minimise the chances of disappointment and may require making first contact with a potential supervisor well in advance of any potential start date, possibly more than a year. This comes back to the whole issue of networking and being in a position to make a confident approach to a potential supervisor. Spend one year building your network, and then one year pinning down a UROP (i.e. why most students undertake a UROP from the second year and onwards).
The College encourages positive responses from supervisors, even if this does not include the offer of a research experience. It is important that supervisors recognise your enthusiasm but equally students must be ready (especially if they are seeking opportunities in particularly newsworthy areas of research) to hear that a research experience is not available at that particular time.
You should not be put off if you are unable to find a research experience at the first attempt. A UROP research experience should be seen in the context of your whole undergraduate experience. If you are a first year student and you are unsuccessful in finding a UROP then think again about your network, develop it further and try again, and again if necessary.
How to apply for a UROP
How early should I apply?
While there are generally no deadlines associated with "applying" to a member of staff for a UROP, some staff may be pursuing research which is very popular amongst students (especially those seeking a summer opportunity) so "applying" early can be important as a member of staff – if they are responsive to providing an opportunity – might agree to take the first student who contacts them.
Equally, someone you contact might already have created a conversation with another student through that student’s networking and might go back to the other student to offer the opportunity (although you might be fortunate and the supervisor might take you as well).
It can also be the case that some students might only start thinking of pursuing UROP after another opportunity (perhaps an external internship) has fallen through and may find a UROP relatively quickly. Please note that bursary competitions normally have a deadline associated with them, and that to be considered for a bursary an applicant must have organised a research experience beforehand.
A potential UROP supervisor can promote their availability (a specific opportunity perhaps) by whatever means they wish, so this means that some opportunities might only be advertised in the member of staff's own academic department.
Many advertised opportunities (including those which appear here on the UROP webpages) could also be very popular. A supervisor normally sets themself a deadline by which they will make a decision from amongst those who express an interest. Please note that bursary competitions normally have a deadline associated with them, and that to be considered for a bursary an applicant must have organised a UROP beforehand.
Should I contact more than one member of staff?
- Think carefully whether to contact members of staff simultaneously or one at a time. It will depend on how quickly staff respond and it is a fact of life that some staff will be too busy to respond.
- Past surveys of UROP participants shows that on average students (who eventually obtain a UROP) approach between 3-4 academic staff before securing a research experience.
- Senior members of College, Faculty and Departmental administrations often, for one reason or another, do not wish to be approached. A list can be viewed here.
Our advice is to start off contacting one potential supervisor at a time, so that you can evaluate how well your style of approach is received, although you may well decide to approach a further member of staff before receiving a response from someone else.
Keep it relevant
What you are seeking is a positive response and further interaction.
Make sure your email or phonecall is concise and to the point.
Give a good impression. You must convey the impression that you are informed, organised, enthusiastic and motivated. On the other hand don’t over do it!
Try to second guess the questions the supervisor may wish to hear the answer to. For example, if you are dedicated to submitting bursary applications in support of any research experience you can secure make this clear so that a supervisor is primed to support you (refer to a relevant bursary scheme). If you know that you are able due to your personal circumstances to do the research experience without financial support then make that known as it might make a diffference where you are the only student who has expressed an interest AND a supervisor is genuinely unable to provide financial support. However, do watch out for local rules in academic departments concerning financial support for UROPs.
What documents should I include?
You should have your CV ready to use, although you will need to judge whether to send it in your first communication with a potential supervisor.
If you have no previous relevant experience you are probably going to rely on a brief statement of fact regarding your degree and the rest will be stressing your motivation etc.
Perhaps decide whether to use open written testimonial letters if you have undertaken relevant experience.
Imperial College undergraduates who are approaching staff in their own department probably do not need to be concerned with referees. However, any other scenario may require your CV to highlight at least one referee (i.e. someone who is familiar with you academically and could comment on your suitability to pursue undergraduate research) although that does not mean a would-be supervisor at Imperial would feel the need to follow up the reference (but they might).
What might I expect the member of staff to do with my “application?”
This may depend on how much interest a member of academic/research staff has received to undertake a UROP, and whether your approach (and indeed the approaches of other students) has been as a result of an "advert".
Advertised UROPs should be managed by the member of academic/research staff offering the UROP to include an equitable selection routine.
Whether you are involved in an intensive selection process for a very popular (advertised) UROP or you are the only student (perhaps for many years) who has contacted the member of academic/research staff about pursuing a UROP in their research field, an outcome to your application/approach might be forthcoming but not necessarily as quickly as you might expect (so please be patient).
A member of staff might suggest contacting them (non-advertised opportunities) again later in the year; a first year might be encouraged to contact the person they have contacted again the following autumn for a research experience at the end of their second year.
A member of staff might suggest other staff to contact, perhaps in another department depending on the nature of the research field you are exploring. Being signposted elsewhere is not a guarantee in itself of securing a UROP but might assist in helping you to highlight your motivation that you have had preliminary contact with the other member of staff.
A potential supervisor may agree to take you on but it may take some further time for any detail to be discussed. Again, this is very normal so please be patient (but be prepared to chase after an appropriate interval).
If your "application" is successful then try to go with the flow if you think it is taking more time then you first expected to get the "detail". Things will happen/develop.
Knocking on doors
Consider whether arranging an appointment to see a member of staff in person may be more profitable than sending an email/letter. You may think that you have the ability to pose the question and get over your enthusiasm in person. This is obviously an option any Imperial undergraduate should seriously consider. Imperial College undergraduates ought to have access to "office hours" information for academic staff (very useful tool).
Struggling to receive a response?
Be prepared to chase up your initial enquiry.
Always be prepared to receive a welcoming but cautious response. You may need to show your commitment (to a provisional offer of a UROP) by undertaking a task, most notably securing your own funding if it is not readily available via the supervisor.
Always be prepared to suggest an alternative solution if it appears unlikely, after interaction, that your initial request will be successful. You might wish to ask how you might obtain the relevant experience which would result in a positive answer. Are there other staff who you could be pointed towards.
Be prepared not to receive a response however annoying this can be. BUT, do not over-contact staff as this can put some staff off. Discover contact management! Incessant emails do not always work, so be prepared to knock on a door and follow up your interest vocally, even if it means organising an appointment.
Decide when to move on to your next target!
Continuing the search and applying again
If you find that the research experience you were particularly interested in has been taken or is no longer available, you need to consider approaching another member of staff or chasing up other staff who you have already contacted.
Ensure you review what you did in terms of making contact and be prepared to change your approach.
Be prepared to re-think your plan and to try again next year. You should not be put off if you are unable to find a research experience at the first attempt. A UROP should be seen in the context of your whole undergraduate experience.
Of course, you can speak directly to your preferred academic supervisor, but if you do not know the member of staff well, you may prefer a more softly-softly approach!
Have you considered making preliminary contact with graduate students in your preferred research group to ask about the work being pursued, and of course it is an excellent way of developing contact with a research group.