What you should know when you apply to URAP

What you should know when you apply to URAP
By Stefanie Ebeling and Sean Burns

Each semester, the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (known around campus as “URAP”) connects undergraduates with faculty mentors and their teams to promote collaboration on research projects. As the name suggests, it celebrates the apprentice model as an impactful form of experiential learning. Undergraduates get first-hand experience with how research discoveries and knowledge production are forged across the disciplines. Through its ability to support close-knit intellectual communities outside the classroom, it helps make our large research university feel a little smaller. When the program began in 1991, 20 faculty mentors worked with 30 students. Now, an average semester will have 300 or more faculty working with 1500 undergraduates. The program has grown immensely in its 25 year history! Research projects in all areas of inquiry are represented; the largest number is in the social sciences, closely followed by biological sciences, and then physical sciences, engineering, and humanities, respectively. Over the years, URAP has expanded to include research projects directed by staff researchers as well as curators in museums and archives. The program is always seeking to build its community of committed mentors.

If you are an undergraduate thinking about applying to a project, here are some things to consider. Engaging in a project through URAP is very different from taking a regular class. The apprentice structure requires significant self-initiative and discipline to make the most of the experience. You should approach URAP as if taking on a new job. If you are offered a position, take seriously the hours you have committed to and plan to sustain your responsibilities through all phases of the semester. Keep in mind that you have the option to receive units for your work.

Is this the right semester to apply? First-year students often ask: “Do I have a chance to get in?” While it is true that the smallest number of apprentices accepted each semester are indeed freshmen, some mentors specifically welcome freshmen because they seek to work with the same students over several semesters. The project descriptions are a good guide: some projects ask for upper division students; some list a certain set of courses students should have completed; others will explicitly state that freshmen are encouraged to apply. Most importantly, be realistic in your expectations. Do not be discouraged if you apply as a freshman and you don’t get the call back; you will have a better chance in future semesters.

To find the most promising position, read the descriptions closely, and take advantage of any web links mentors provide to get a better understanding of their work, their lab (if applicable), their latest publications, etc. Pay attention to the hours required per week - commitments range between 3 and 12 hours. Whatever the project requires, be certain that it works with the rest of your workload and schedule. The right opportunity at the right time in your undergraduate years can be deeply meaningful, but making a commitment you cannot follow through with will negatively impact your path as well as the progression of the faculty’s research project. To increase the chances of finding a position, students can apply to up to three mentors. Be broad in your selection - many projects are interdisciplinary and are looking for students with very different skills and backboard knowledge. Show your potential mentor that you have a genuine interest in their research topic, and tell them what you hope to be able to learn and contribute. Some projects are flooded with applications, while others receive fewer than needed. Be thoughtful about your application choices and always be on the lookout for the projects that re-open during the “extended deadline.”

URAP info sessions are held at the beginning of each semester, and peer advisors at the Office of Undergraduate Research & Scholarships are ready to support you. Should you be accepted, make the most of this unique research opportunity. Be open with your research team members (be they faculty, postdocs, graduate students, or other undergraduates) about what questions you have and the feedback and support you need to best contribute to the project.

Stefanie Ebeling is the manager of URAP, and Sean Burns directs the Office of Undergraduate Research & Scholarships.