IROP: Taking UROP Overseas

By the UROP Staff - Reprinted from the UROP Mentor Newsletter

It is no surprise that MIT students seem to continually look for ways to take knowledge developed on campus and use it to make positive differences in foreign cultures and environments. As educators, we know that overseas learning opportunities significantly enhance the overall academic and social development of students, and we are committed to providing a broad selection of these opportunities to MIT undergraduates. Recognizing that UROP research has long played a key role in learning at MIT, it is clear that the Institute’s intensified focus on global learning should fully include cultivation and support of international research opportunities.

For the past several years, the Office for Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming (UAAP) has been providing UROP funding support to students with opportunities to conduct MIT faculty-mentored research in international settings. In past summers, UROP research has taken place in several international settings, including Australia, Japan, Switzerland, Venezuela, Tanzania, Pakistan, Guatemala, and Niger. These undertakings have represented a broad spectrum of research areas and interests, from particle physics studies at the CERN facilities in Geneva, to field studies of water filtration processes in rural South America. We call these projects IROPs: International Research Opportunities Projects.

IROP mirrors the traditional campus-based model in that qualifying projects would have the approval, mentorship, and guidance of an MIT faculty member. Sometimes, undergraduate researchers will accompany MIT faculty to overseas research sites. In other cases, students may receive faculty supervision and mentorship through long distance communications. In all cases, an approved UROP supervisor must be in a position to mentor and evaluate the student’s research. In addition, students must be fully aware of travel risk policies and procedures prior to departure. Projects typically take place over the summer.

IROP opportunities will hold many of the same benefits to students offered by conventional study abroad experiences. They will provide the forum for students to connect with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, individuals who share similar intellectual goals. “Engaging in a global experience,” says Senior Associate Dean and UAAP Director Julie Norman, “enables students to develop leadership potential, expand decision making skills, increase their understanding of ethical challenges, and enhance problem-solving skills. Working, studying or doing research in an international setting can, in many cases, be a transformation experience.”

In summer 2007, the UAAP committed 32K in funding support (wages and travel costs) for IROP projects, and anticipates providing similar levels of support in summer 2008. UAAP staff have also developed programming and resources aimed specifically at promoting and supporting IROP research. This programming includes workshops and panel discussions designed to educate students on preparation for global research, its benefits and challenges (including associated risk), and securing funding support.

While the locations may often be more exotic, IROP projects share a key ingredient with on-campus UROP projects: the faculty-student partnership. “We know that there are many students out there that would love to do research overseas,” says UAAP Associate Dean Michael Bergren, “and we know that there are MIT faculty that will mentor them, and perhaps even steer them toward these opportunities. The challenge is getting more faculty and students to be aware that there are a number of offices and groups on campus, including the UAAP, who are absolutely committed to supporting these partnerships.”

For more information on IROPs, contact UAAP at x3-7306, or urop@mit.edu.