MIT Society of Physics Students

Tips on getting a Physics UROP

Decide on what research area you're interested in, and select a couple of professors (or research staff members in physics) whose work seems appealing.
Spend some time on this step to find topics and people that you're really interested in. You want to find a project that you'll enjoy and learn a lot from, not just a generic UROP. When looking for people and labs to contact, it helps to know that newly appointed professors are often more eager for students than other professors. Also, while some professors may seem less approachable than others, don't let this dissuade you from contacting them. They might still have UROP positions. Lastly, remember that good physics is done in other departments or labs: theoretical physics in math, condensed matter in EECS and the Bitter magnet lab, plasma in the Plasma Science Fusion center, quantum information in the Media Lab, etc. If your interests overlap other departments, scout out relevant professors in those departments. For anyone that interests you, read up on their work.
Network with upperclass UROPs.
When you've found a research area that interests you, try to talk to other students who are already UROPing in that or other areas. They might know of a professor to contact or may even be able to recommend you for open positions. Often a group will have an opening when a senior finishes his thesis. Talking to other students will also give you an idea of the UROP, the professor, and the overall experience.
Go by to visit the professor.
While email is a common means of contacting a professor, nothing can substitute an in person visit. If you stop by and find a professor is unavailable, get a copy of annual group report, latest Sci Amer level paper the group has written (or recent letter written on hottest results), etc. from the Admin. Assistant/Group Secretary. You can't overestimate the value of getting this person on your side. Read this to get ideas and knowledge about this research area. Then phone (e-mail is too easy to ignore) for an appointment.
Be professional when meeting with a professor
When you do meet with a professor, remember that this visit has many of the aspects of a job interview: take a resume (with phone numbers of references if any), stress your interest in and knowledge of this particular group's activities without being overbearing. Have a ready mental list of the skills you possess (these should be on your resume also) that might be applied to the problems in the group. Even if you only helped build a room on your house, the knowledge that you can use a screw-driver is comforting to someone contemplating letting you loose in his/her lab. The post-docs and graduate students will not only provide a lot of your supervision if you work in that group, but will be the likely beneficiaries of your work — so talk to them at length if possible.
Be patient, but persistent

There is unlikely to be an immediate positive response; try to get a professor to indicate a date by which they will call you back, and contact a few days after that if they don't. Rather than accept a flat "NO", emphasize your interest in this specific group and indicate your willingness to come by again next semester, your availability if anything comes up in the near future, etc.

If one group does not pan out, keep trying. Don't get discouraged. Everyone has had trouble finding a UROP at some point, so don't take it personally. Just keep at it!

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