Things to consider before approaching a member of staff
OK, so you know what motivates you to seek a UROP but what are the next steps? There are a number of points you ought to consider before contacting a Research Group or a specific member of academic staff. What is really important is to read a selection of Student Perspectives to get a feel for a UROP experience.
Please note that UROP has been developed to be first and foremost on offer to students of Imperial College and as such some supervisors might give priority to their applications over those from students from outside the College.
The current pandemic means that the use of remote (i.e. non campus) options to structure and deliver a UROP are clearly relevant.
Things to consider before approaching a member of academic staff
Are there any formal academic requirements to participate in UROP?
Individual opportunities (including any that appear on these webpages) may give an indication of the types of practical and educational experiences which a supervisor is looking for. However, it is often simply a student’s innate enthusiasm for research and motivation to knuckle down and work hard (to show signs of being able to work independently) that a supervisor needs to observe when discussing an opportunity.
Individual academic staff may prefer from their own experience of undergraduate research to host a student at particular level in their education. Therefore, a Year 1 student may need to be more persuasive than a student further into their degree programme.
Equally, some academic staff will consider the academic performance of a student when making a decision.
Do all academic staff participate?
The short answer is ‘No’.
Participation of academic staff is purely voluntary.
However, in the period 2010-2012 (the last period for which this data is available) more than 50% of academic staff participated at least once providing more than 1000 opportunities for Imperial undergraduates alone during this period. This highlights a research environment which is acutely aware of the demand from students for such opportunities. Evidence from more recent years suggests that more and more academic staff are drawn to evaluating their ability to get involved, and as the years progress more and more academic staff have a background that includes undertaking such activities themselves when at university.
Of course, it is not a simple picture and students need to be ready for responses which may not be wholly positive. You are interacting with a real-world working environment and opportunities are offered or not offered against this backdrop. Students need to consider the long-game of developing links with academic staff (and their research areas/groups), of networking over a longer period in order to help persuade academic staff to provide opportunities.
- Many staff (or whole research groups) will have a history of involvement in UROP, and that involvement is influenced by the ebb and flow of their research (the availability of resources, indeed the availability of staff and, perhaps, doctoral students to provide appropriate supervision; the suitability of ongoing research to undergraduate participation).
- Some staff may prefer to host students for longer periods and therefore may prefer an approach from an external student seeking a term or semester long placement.
- Some staff may prefer to host a student who seeks to undertake a thesis project (especially a masters level project) under their supervision, and therefore perhaps a shorter summer vacation UROP is less attractive at that time.
Academic staff at Imperial College have to also balance their teaching commitments with their research work, and many staff will be committed to providing curriculum-based projects for (especially) Imperial College (postgraduate) master students, often at the same time (summer vacation) as many undergraduates want to do a UROP.
The picture, as we say, is not simple. Please do not be demoralised if a member of staff is unable to offer you an opportunity (perhaps does not respond to your email). Keep searching.
Have you prepared your CV? Does it matter if you have a CV!
Clearly, you need to consider how you come across to potential supervisors (the impression you make). However, you need to consider whether your CV (curriculum vitae) is telling more than what you could possibly relay to a potential supervisor in a couple of sentences. Obviously, some students will have much more on their CV than others.
If so, does your CV need updating?
Imperial College undergraduates ONLY: Think clearly about how you present yourself, and if you have never written your CV, seek advice from the College's Careers Service.
Have you concluded who your best academic referees would be IF you need one?
Occasionally, a member of academic staff might wish to know more about you from someone who has taught you or supervised you previously. What we call a "referee".
If so, you need to think who that person or persons might be.
Are they available to provide recommendations if requested by a potential UROP supervisor? Normally you would ask the "referee" in advance of inserting their name and contact details in your curriculum vitae (CV).
In addition to teachers at your home university, have you additional referees related to past relevant experiences?
Do you have (what we term) an "open testimonial" (a letter addressed openly to whoever wishes to read it) from a previous research project/experience supervisor which you could attach to your email to a member of academic staff?
Requiring a "referee" may be more relevant if you are enquiring about a UROP in a department other than your own (and of course, if you are studying at another UK university).
What skills can you offer the host research group? What skills are you looking to develop?
Undertake a personal skills analysis and consider:
- what are your strengths and weaknesses.
- what experiences do you already have, and that can be built upon.
- what it is you particularly enjoy doing (including experiences which form part of your degree)
- what experiences you might wish to expose yourself to in order to strengthen your ability in key areas.
- what skills and experiences would benefit you later in your degree
You might wish to think about how to include your strengths in any email or phone or in-person conversation you have with a potential supervisor.
You may wish to consider the Imperial Graduate "Attributes".
The Imperial Graduate Attributes are a set of core competencies to which we aspire in all our degree programmes.
What type of “work” do you wish to gain experience of?
Are you looking for general lab or workshop experience or are you more at home (maybe literally these days!) in front of a PC or laptop handling data.
Do you wish to be exposed to new methods and new techniques or are you more interested in reinforcing skills etc that you have been taught as part of your degree or have obtained elsewhere.
Is it the structure of a non-curriculum experience which interests you?
Does your interest in a particular research area draw you to a project based experience.
Are you an independent worker or do you want to work with others.
These would all help a potential supervisor figure out how to best configure a UROP research experience.
Read the "perspectives" to obtain some insight into the experiences of students.
When are you available and for how long?
Whether you are an Imperial undergraduate or a student from another UK university be sure as to when you are available to undertake a UROP research experience.
While UROP at Imperial is mainly an activity which attracts Imperial College undergraduates and takes place during Imperial College’s summer vacation, it can take place at other times. The current pandemic means that remote (i.e. non-campus) options may require to be considered in structuring and delivering a UROP. See the What is UROP page for a message concerning UROP in the summer of 2022.
Imperial College undergraduates can also participate on a much reduced part-time basis during the academic year (i.e. during term-time).
Some further points for Imperial College undergraduates (only) to consider:
Are you available to commence a UROP earlier than the start of the summer vacation?
- Check when you actually finish your academic work/examinations for the year including course-related obligations, such as project deadlines and final year vivas. However, Imperial College undergraduates should also check with their home academic department (the Senior or Academic Tutor is a good person to speak to) if they will allow them to commence a UROP before the end of the College's academic year, and to do this before registering the UROP through the host department (which may be different to their home academic department).
Have you holidays/trips arranged for the summer?
- Some supervisors will be happy for you to undertake a placement in two or three blocks in order to accommodate your holiday or a break.
- Some supervisors may expect you to undertake the placement in one lump.
- It will depend on the nature of the research to be undertaken.
Are you in a position to consider a term-time (part-time) UROP placement?
- Obviously you need to think clearly whether you have sufficient time alongside your studies to do so, and when that might be. You should consider speaking to your personal tutor if you are keen but unsure as to the time required. In truth, you might be more suited to some form of extension activity beyond your curriculum rather than a UROP but at what point a little project becomes a UROP is a slightly grey area.
- While not a pre-requisite for a summer vacation research experience, a term-time opportunity would allow you to get a feel for the type of work going on in a particular research group, and it would also allow your supervisor to appraise your capabilities and perhaps allow them to offer you a more full-time summer UROP.
- It may be a good solution if you find it hard going persuading a member of staff to offer you a more full-time summer research experience.
In reality most term-time involvement takes place after a full-time UROP, i.e. should there be unfinished business/work to undertake.
Would you ideally require funding from the host research group to help with your living costs and have you investigated the options?
See the Funding for UROPs page for further support.
It is important to discuss this with any supervisor who is interested in providing a UROP research experience. The College encourages supervisors to provide a bursary or assist a student to search for and apply for third party funding. Undertaking a UROP without a bursary to assist with living costs is discouraged.
The UROP Registration Form (when you reach that stage) asks questions about funding.
Have you thought about how a UROP might be structured?
UROP is a highly flexible arrangement for fruitful contact between students and academics, their staff and graduate students.
Read the What is UROP page if you are unclear. The current pandemic means that the use of remote (i.e. non campus) options to structure and deliver a UROP are clearly relevant. On the "What is UROP" page there is a message about UROP in the summer of 2022.
Reading the experiences of past participants is a good way of getting a feel for what students get involved in and how.
Have you identified possible supervisors? Are you sure what research interests you?
Please remember that only a small minority of academic staff promote their availability via these webpages.
It is therefore perfectly reasonable (indeed, an absolute must in reality) for you to spread your search beyond those opportunities listed here, by researching the relevant College websites for information on the work of research groups and for discovering which staff to contact.
Sometimes it is useful to know who the research group administrators are, because they will perhaps know if the group has hosted UROP participants in the past, and whether opportunities may be available again. It's all part of your network building!
Some students are nurturing research ambitions (perhaps from before they come to Imperial) and perhaps need support with their lines of enquiry. This is where your Personal Tutor and other staff in your Dept (e.g. Academic Tutors; Student Experience Officers; Careers Advisors) come into play. Please do not feel bashful about discussing your research interests.
There is a list of non-contactable staff.