UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT PROGRAM (URAP)

The Undergraduate Research Assistant Program funds inexperienced students to work with faculty who are in need of assistance on their own research projects. In doing so, students who do not have sufficient research experience to design and carry out their own independent project gain first-hand mentored knowledge of research practices in their discipline, while faculty who would not otherwise be able to hire Research Assistants (RAs) get help with their own projects. Unlike our other grant programs, a URAP application has to be initiated by a faculty member. Faculty can apply with a particular student(s) in mind, or the Office of Undergraduate Research can assist in finding a student for them by running a search. If you are interested, keep reading to learn how you can get hired by this program!

If you are a potential faculty mentor interested in applying to URAP, please visit our URAP for Faculty page! The below information is geared toward students.

THE PROGRAM HAS THREE FUNDING PRIORITIES:

    1. To help students from any discipline who have no prior research experience and are not yet ready to do independent research get training and mentoring in the research methods of their chosen discipline (*with special emphasis on applications seeking to hire first and second year students for academic year 2020-2021).
    2. To support opportunities in the arts, humanities, journalism, and non-laboratory based social sciences where funding for undergrad research experiences is uncommon (*faculty mentors in lab-based fields must make an explicit arguments about why there is no other funding available to hire an undergrad student).
    3. To support pairings of residential college faculty and students (*while first and second year students are remote, they are still connected to their initial housing community assignment).

DEADLINES

Since faculty can either apply with a pre-selected student OR run a job search, this means there are two different deadlines, pending which pathway you take.

PRE-SELECTED STUDENTS:

  • 2020 Academic Year URAP Faculty Deadline (AY URAP): Wednesday, October 7, 2020
  • 2021 Summer URAP Faculty Deadline (SURAP): Monday, April 19, 2021

Students applying as the pre-selected student must submit PDFs of their resume and cover letter within 24 hours of the faculty deadline listed above.

STUDENTS APPLYING TO OPEN JOB SEARCHES:

  • 2020 Academic Year URAP Student Search application period (AY URAP): Jobs will post before end of day on October 28th, 2020 and will remain open until November 11th, 2020 (11:59pm).
    • 2021 Summer URAP Student Search application period (SURAP): Jobs will post sometime in early May; please sign up for our newsletter if you want to be the first to know when they are posted!
    COVID19 Impact
    Projects must be 100% remote

    All faculty applications for Academic Year URAP funding should proactively articulate how the project is feasible in a remote environment. Since we do not know how COVID19 circumstances will continue to evolve throughout Winter/Spring quarters, our goal is to provide opportunities that students can count on, regardless of what changes.

    $500 honorarium for faculty awardees

    Faculty who are awarded this grant will receive $500 in supplemental funding to be used at their discretion, as a thank you for providing meaningful experiences during this uncertain time. 

    Temporary emphasis on hiring first and second year mentees

    In an effort to provide more opportunities to first and second year students who are still an important part of our campus community, we will temporarily prioritize applications seeking to hire younger students. That is not to say that faculty applications seeking to hire more senior students will not be considered; the faculty review committee will evaluate application’s argument for the candidate selection during the review process.

    Hiring two students - $1500 EACH

    If you are working with a faculty who choose to hire two students, you will not be required to split the award money with the other student. Each hired student will be eligible to earn the full award amount ($1500)

    Legal restrictions on hiring students residing outside the US

    Under applicable policy, the University cannot hire someone to work who is outside of the United States at the hiring time. To better accommodate international students not currently in the US, we will extend our hiring window into early January for students returning to campus for Winter quarter. Please note that this will slightly delay the period of time during which the you will able to work, as you cannot begin working until all hiring paperwork is completed.

    Eligibility
    Student Mentee Eligibility

    Overall, this program is meant for student mentees with no prior research experience, or no prior experience in the proposed methodologies. If you are not sure of your eligibility on the basis of prior research, please consult this Student Eligibility Guide.

    Eligible Applicants:

    • Undergraduate Northwestern students who are new to research.
    • Undergraduate Northwestern students who are interested in conducting research in a new field that is significantly different than their previous research.

    Ineligible Applicants:

    • Students who are not residing on US soil at time of hire.
    • Seniors graduating in the Spring cannot apply for Summer URAP positions.
    • Seniors graduating early cannot be selected for Academic Year URAP positions (given that most students do not begin working until Winter, and the student needs to be an active undergraduate student to be eligible).
    • Undergraduate Northwestern students who have already held a URAP position.
    • Undergraduate Northwestern students who are prepared to conduct independent research (you should apply for our independent research grants instead!).
    • URAP awardees may NOT simultaneously hold an independent grant during their award tenure.
    Faculty Mentor Eligibility

    Eligible Applicants:

    • Full-time Northwestern University teaching faculty
    • Non-tenure track faculty and lecturers who are teaching this year are eligible, and strongly encouraged to apply as long as they will be at Northwestern the following year.
    • Teaching postdocs are eligible, and strongly encouraged to apply. Post-docs on two year fellowships can only apply for a Summer or AY URAP in their first year.

    Ineligible Applicants: URAP fosters long-term mentoring relationships between faculty and students; therefore, faculty are only eligible to apply if they will still be on their campus the academic year after they hold a URAP.

    • Emeritus faculty, faculty retiring or leaving Northwestern the following academic year, single year visiting faculty, and other teaching faculty who will not be at Northwestern next academic year are not eligible to apply.
    • Graduate students and non-teaching post-docs are not eligible to apply.
    Application Process
    Finding a Faculty Mentor

    Faculty mentors initiate the main application. They will describe the student role and tasks, how you will be trained, and their mentorship plan. We provide faculty with an Annotated Application Guide to help them think about what approaches would work best to strengthen their application. We encourage students to identify faculty to apply on their behalf (it’s your best chance of success!). A great way to begin this process is to work through Getting Started, and attend a Finding a Faculty/Lab Workshop.

    If you are able to find a faculty mentor to apply on your behalf, it often works well to meet and discuss the project and your role before the faculty mentor applies. You can take notes during your meeting in this application Word Template, and send it to the faculty mentor afterwards as a way of jump starting their application. The information from meeting will also help you be specific in your cover letter about the aspects of the job that you are excited about and what you hope to gain from this experience. 

    If you are not able to identify a faculty member to apply on your behalf in advance of the deadline, that’s okay! Sign up for our e-Newsletter to be the first to know when the open job searches go live! You are welcome to apply to more than one open job, but you must apply separately to EACH position, and we expect you to tailor your cover letter each time. The potential drawbacks to the open job search are that 1) there is no guarantee there will be a faculty mentor in your field running a job search, and 2) you will be competing against other students applying to the same position, so it is more competitive. That being said, it’s always worth a shot to apply! If you are not selected, there are still many other ways to get involved in research. Meeting with an advisor is the best way to come up with a game plan that works for you and your goals!

    Drafting Your Cover Letter

    You will need a cover letter to apply, regardless of whether you apply as a pre-selected student, or you apply to an open job search position. 

    EXPECTATIONS ON COVER LETTER SUBMISSION:

    You are applying for a position that is competitive – take the time to write a strong application. If you have not written a job application before we recommend you review the resources provided by Career Advancement before starting. The following tips should serve as a baseline; students can receive additional advising on this process from Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA), and they can schedule an appointment through Handshake. There are lots of helpful examples and resources on the NCA website, including their Career Guide with sample cover letters and their page specific to Cover Letter Writing.

    FORMATTING:

    • Cover letter is maximum of 1 page.
    • Save document as a PDFs prior to submission.
    • Minimum 11 point font.

    COVER LETTER CONTENT:

    • Refer to faculty using their correct titles: “Prof” or “Dr”, not “Ms” or “Mr”. Professor is the safest bet, and it avoids awkward assumptions about gender identity or marital status.
      • FOR PRE-SELECTED STUDENTS: Address the cover letter to the faculty mentor, but your target audience is the faculty review committee. Your goal is to demonstrate alignment with the faculty mentor’s application. You want the review committee to know how you and the faculty mentor came to work together, what skills you are excited about developing, and how you hope to benefit from the URAP experience, if selected. An easy way to begin this cover letter is to use content from the first e-mail you likely sent the faculty mentor (back when you were looking to start a conversation about their research), and then add in content from conversations you have since had with the faculty mentor about the particulars of the URAP position.
      • FOR OPEN JOB SEARCH STUDENTS: Address the cover letter to the faculty mentor, being careful to assure that you submit the right cover letter if you apply to more than one open position. Your cover letter is your chance to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Try to express your passion and interests for the position, and explain why their position in particular stood out to you.
    • Introduce yourself so they know who is applying. In the first paragraph, it is a good idea to let the faculty mentor a) who you are, your year, and potential major or field of interest, and b) share how you found out about the job opening (ie did their colleague recommend it to you? Listserv? Course you are talking? Office of Undergraduate Research staff member?) Additionally, if you have a residential college affiliation (ie Willard, Shepard, etc) please mention this as well.
    • Tailor your application to the job you are applying for. A potential employer wants to know why you are interested in this specific position, and to get an idea of the skills, qualities, and experiences you would bring to it. They are less interested in generic discussion of your personal history, or experiences that have no bearing on the job they want done. So refer to specific reasons why you are interested in this position, and give reasons (supported with evidence – see below) for why you are the best candidate for this job. You will not likely be a competitive candidate if you cannot articulate why a specific job is a good match for you, and what you hope to get out of it.
    • Provide evidence for your statements. It’s not enough to say “I am passionate about history/genetics/psychology/etc.” Why should the person reviewing your application take your word for it? And how does your claim to be passionate distinguish you from all the other applicants claiming exactly the same thing? Demonstrate your interest through concrete examples of things you have already done. E.g., what coursework have you taken? Do you have relevant life experiences through clubs, activism, or personal circumstance? What prior experiences show that you had some interest in this topic before you read the job ad?
    • Your application must be professional. A potential employer is interested in your professional experiences and academic goals, not your hobbies and childhood memories. When you describe your background and interest in the field, remember that this is a job application and not a dating profile.
    • Give your potential employer enough information to make a decision. If you only provide generic information and do not give much detail on yourself, how can a potential employer evaluate your interest in, and suitability for, the job?
    • Copy edit your application before you send it. This should be obvious…you WILL be judged if there are typos or spelling errors. Don’t let silly mistakes hold back your application. If you are applying to more than one position, log back into the system after you apply and confirm that you uploaded the right resume and the right cover letter for each position. If a faculty member receives an application addressed to a different mentor, they likely won’t take your application seriously.

    Click here to download an Example Cover Letter.

    Drafting Your Resume

     You will need a resume to apply, regardless of whether you apply as a pre-selected student, or you apply to an open job search position. 

    EXPECTATIONS ON RESUME SUBMISSION:

    You are applying for a position that is competitive – take the time to write a strong application. If you have not written a resume before we recommend you review the resources provided by Career Advancement before starting. The following tips should serve as a baseline; students can receive additional advising on this process from Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA), and they can schedule an appointment through Handshake. There are lots of helpful examples and resources on the NCA website, including their Career Guide with sample cover letters and their page specific to Resume Writing.

    FORMATTING:

    • Resume is maximum of 1 page.
    • Save document as a PDF prior to submission.
    • Minimum 11 point font.

    RESUME CONTENT:

    • Common sections include:
      • Contact information
      • Education
      • Relevant Experience (does not have to be formal job experience)
      • Leadership
      • Awards
      • Skills
    • Start bullet points with action verbs. NCA has a list of action verbs to help you get started. Where possible, try to quantify your experience, or frame it in a way that shows how it is relevant to the position to which you are applying. 
    • Place the most important information first and group related experiences together. Use section categories to highlight your experiences most relevant to the job first. Within each category, items will be listed chronologically. 
    • Include relevant non-work experiences. Think broadly about what you might include; any activity you do consistently that has an output you can point to can work! For this particular resume, you might include relevant coursework to demonstrate interest in a topic area.

    Click here to download an Example Resume.

    Submitting Student Application Materials

    FOR PRE-SELECTED STUDENTS: your faculty mentor will include your netID when they submit the application. This will trigger an email to you, asking you to upload a PDF of your resume and cover letter to complete the application in the portal (https://urg.northwestern.edu). You will see the pending application when you login. You must upload your materials within 24 hours of the faculty application deadline for the application to be considered.

    FOR OPEN JOB SEARCH STUDENTS: After log-in, you’ll see a grid with any applications you have previously submitted.  If you have never used this system, it will be empty. On the left hand column, click the link that says “OUR: Office of Undergraduate Research.” Scroll through the opportunity listings until you find the name of the faculty mentor and title of the opportunity for which you’d like to apply.

    Apply through this Application Portal.

    • For best results, use Firefox or Chrome with your VPN on.
    • Log in with your NetID and password.
    • Enter the required information, and upload PDFs of your resume and cover letter. 

    Final Submission
    When you submit the application (via the button on the left hand side), you will get one of two system responses:

    • Option 1: Error message that there were some problems with your application. The errors will be highlighted in red; please review and correct them before you resubmit. Please note that if you hit “save”, it will not save the attachments (so the upload disappears). The best way to submit is to hit save BEFORE uploading, upload the two documents as your final step, then hit submit.
    • Option 2: If there are no errors, you will be sent to a survey site. Doing the survey is a requirement to complete the application. It is a short survey that helps us continue advocating for funding and make improvements to the process.

    You will receive an automatically generated confirmation email within 15 minutes of your successful submission.

    Application Evaluation

    FOR PRE-SELECTED STUDENTS: the faculty mentor’s application and your jointly included materials will be evaluated by the faculty review committee. The will be reviewing the applications according to the following criteria:

    • There is a clear benefit to both the faculty and the student. The student is actively engaged in the research rather than doing mundane tasks like data entry or transcribing.
    • The student does not have prior research experience, or the student will clearly be transitioning into a new field with significantly different methodologies than their prior experience.
    • The application outlines a clear and detailed mentoring plan, discussing how the faculty mentor will help the student develop their research skills.
    • The faculty mentor would not otherwise be able to hire an RA because the field is traditionally underfunded and/or undergraduates are not normally included in the research process: arts, humanities, and non-lab/field-based social sciences.
    • For faculty in the natural sciences, engineering, medical school, or lab/field-based social sciences, the application makes a detailed and compelling case for why no other funding is available to support RAs. If the faculty has hired undergraduate RAs before, the application explains why this particular student cannot be hired from the same funding source.
    • The experience for the student goes beyond the regular curriculum in the discipline.

    FOR OPEN JOB SEARCH STUDENTS: your application will be considered amongst all other applications received for the open position. Open positions have had as few as 3 and as many as 40 applications in the past. Faculty may review and evaluate candidates however they would like; however, only students who have formally applied through the application portal during the open hiring period may be considered. In fairness to other applicants, late applications are not permitted. Faculty will review applications through the application portal; if you receive notification that the application has been endorsed, this is NOT indicative of an award decision. This is just language of the application system to indicate that the proposal has been reviewed. Final eligibility of the faculty’s selected candidates are confirmed through the Office of Undergraduate Research, and our office will administer final award decisions. 

    FAQS:

    Can I get help writing my resume and cover letter?

    Certainly! Since the required student application components are a resume and cover letter, your best resource is Northwestern Career Advancement. You can schedule an appointment with an advisor via Handshake. If you’re looking to speak to someone quickly, look into NCA LiveChat or NCA Express Advising options. 

    We are also happy to provide advising support through the Office of Undergraduate Research. Schedule an advising appointment with an advisor. 

    What if I do not currently have a faculty mentor in mind?

    We can help you! Schedule an advising appointment with an advisor to learn about when the next grant deadline will be, and how you can best identify and contact faculty who are doing research that interests you. If you’re interested in applying to open job searches, sign up for our newsletter if you want to be the first to know when they are posted!

    I am in a lab-based field. Can I still ask a faculty mentor to apply?

     Yes, but it depends on the particular funding situation of the faculty mentor with whom you are working. We do fund faculty from the natural sciences, engineering, the medical school, and lab/field-based social sciences (psychology, cognitive science, archaeology, etc.). However, the Faculty Mentor must clearly and explicitly state in their application that there is a specific reason why they cannot use other resources that are commonly available to hire RAs such as REUs, discretionary accounts, existing grants, and so on. For example, URAP has funded:

    • New junior faculty who have not yet applied for major grants and who need RA help while they are setting up their first lab.
    • Faculty who are initiating small, unfunded pilot projects that will later form the basis of a new NSF/NIH application.
    • Faculty who are funded by grants that explicitly prohibit hiring of undergraduates (please be specific about funding source).

    If the faculty mentor does have potential funding to hire you, we expect them to do so such that our office can focus on creating as many opportunities for students as possible.  There are often a number of resources in these disciplines wherein faculty can fund or subsidize undergraduates.

    For example, if the faculty mentor has the means to hire undergraduates using their own funding and you are work-study eligible, hiring students through work-study can be very cost-effective to the faculty mentor. If you are hired via work-study, a significant portion of your work-study hourly wage is subsidized by the government. Therefore, hiring you as a paid research assistant for 8-10 hours a week for the academic year typically costs less than $1000 for the faculty mentor. Many work-study research assistants go on to apply for a $3,500 living stipend in summer grant funding through our office to continue working over the summer! To learn more about work-study, please visit the work-study financial aid website.

    When can I begin working? How many hours can I complete?

    Academic Year URAP

    • Students can begin working any time after 11/1/2020 IF they have submitted the appropriate payroll paperwork AND the position is visible in Kronos.
    • Students can work more heavily in one quarter than another, pending their course load and agreement with the faculty sponsor.
    • Students can work over breaks, if agreed upon with faculty sponsor.  Work cannot be conducted during exam periods.
    • If they choose to space out the 100 hours, students often work 5-8 hours a week (see funding information above).
    • Students CANNOT work more than 40 hrs/week; whether working for this job alone or in combination with another part-time campus job.
    • Students must complete & log all hours by Thursday, May 27, 2020 (last payroll deadline before Spring Exams begin). Hours must be logged in Kronos AND annotated in a shared Google Sheet to indicate how hours were earned.

    Summer URAP

    • Students can begin working any time after 6/13/2021 (first pay period start after Spring Exams end), IF they have submitted the appropriate payroll paperwork AND their timecard is visible in Kronos.
    • Students CANNOT work more than 40 hrs/week; whether working for this job alone or in combination with another part-time campus job.
    • If students choose to evenly space out the hours (and are given the maximum award), it comes to ~25 – 35 hours a week, pending how many weeks of summer they work (see funding information above).
    • Students must complete & log all hours by the last pay period in the fiscal year (August 20, 2021)
    How do I get paid?

    The Office of Undergraduate Research hires students as Temp Employees, and students are paid an hourly wage of $15/hr. Students enter their hours in Kronos to get paid, and the faculty supervisor (or someone the faculty mentor designates) approves hours in Kronos as primary supervisor. Students cannot begin working until their timecard is visible in Kronos; typically the job is visible about a week after all payroll paperwork is submitted. Additional processes to complete payroll paperwork (like applying and receiving a social security number) may delay the potential start date. Full details on your award paperwork, payroll paperwork, and using Kronos to log/approve hours will be provided in your award emails; we also require all student awardees to participate in a mandatory on-boarding workshop.

    I need help with the Kronos timekeeping system.

    We will take care of hiring you, and we provide an on-boarding workshop to guide you through how to use the Kronos system. Your faculty mentor or someone they designate will approve your hours every two weeks. If your faculty mentor knows in advance that they will be unable to approve your hours for an upcoming deadline, they may contact the URAP administrator to request backup approval on their behalf.

    All other questions are best asked of the Kronos help desk, as we are not experts in how this system works.

    Can I use this position to earn work-study money? What about academic credit?

    If you are awarded work-study as part of your financial aid package, a URAP position can be used to earn work-study allotment if you so choose. This option is only possible during the academic year.

    HOWEVER, the average work-study allotment is between $3,000 and $4,000, which comes to about 200-260 hours of work (instead of the original AYURAP 100 hours). Not all faculty mentors may be able to provide that much work. Therefore, the faculty must have additional hours for you to complete and agree to this prior to you opting to use your work-study money, or you may wish to find a different job to earn your full allotment.

    You cannot simultaneously be paid for your work while earning academic credit, so if you prefer to receive academic credit, you should apply for a 398/399 independent study. Enrollment in an independent student makes you eligible to apply for an Academic Year Undergraduate Research Grant, which provides $1,000 towards research related expenses.

    I'm a research assistant, but I'm falling behind in my work and I'm freaking out. What do I do?

    Talk to your faculty member. Begin the conversation well before entering crisis mode. Most faculty members can be accommodating as long as they are fully informed.