Undergraduate Research in Business

Undergraduates can also be hired to work on professors’ projects:

Business students do not have to found their own company or even develop their own project in order to participate in undergraduate research, however. Often, universities will provide the framework allowing professors to hire undergraduates to work as research assistants.

In fact, at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Undergraduate Research Projects (UROP) are popular and institutionalized, making these professor-to-student relationships easier to build. Several MIT business professors have described the pairing of professors to undergraduates as symbiotic, with both players benefiting greatly.

Paul Asquith, a professor of finance at MIT Sloan, has been working with undergraduates for around 20 years, and has a firm system in place. His students begin working for him early in their college careers and typically stay on for the remaining years.

“They start as sophomores,” Asquith said. “If they start later, by the time you teach them something it’s no use.”

Hiring a new sophomore or two each year, Asquith generally has at least three students working for him at any given time. He said he starts them out on simple things – where he can show them what to do, and then have them do it. With time and experience, they can move up and contribute more to his projects.

Though he emphasized that his students came from all majors – many of them in the sciences – he also said that many went into business upon graduation. “We tend to place them pretty well,” he said.

His thoughts about the professional benefits of undergraduate research are shared by several of his MIT colleagues, and MIT Sloan’s website for undergraduate programs highlights the chance to participate in UROPs as one of the biggest benefits of studying at MIT. At Sloan, instead of UROPs involving labs with beakers and circuit boards, students work on things like data analysis on stock prices for reverse mergers or the creation of test instruments to measure online collaboration.

Undergraduates can participate in UROPs in several ways – by taking on a project as independent study, for which they are not paid but receive course credit; by applying for research funding from the university; or by being hired and paid directly by the research center involved in the project.


Olivia Basil, MIT UROP for Professor Thomas Malone

Olivia Basil is a rising junior at MIT, majoring in management science with a concentration in finance and operations research. During the academic year, she also spends about 10 hours a week working as a research assistant for Professor Thomas Malone, the director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.

“Professor Malone is my academic advisor at MIT,” Basil said. “When I was notified that I would be one of his advisees, I decided to look into his background and I saw that he was the head of a project for the Center of Collective Intelligence. I was very intrigued by the subject matter, so I asked Professor Malone if there was room on the research team for me, because I was highly interested in participating in UROP through his lab. He graciously accepted me.”

According to Basil, MIT greatly emphasizes the importance of hands-on experience for undergraduates, and because of the numerous opportunities, she estimates that over 50% of undergraduates participate in research.

Her current project is in furtherance of Professor Malone’s work in collective intelligence, and its purpose is to use collective intelligence, a new measure of group effectiveness, to study the question: Does the effectiveness of online groups change with group size?

“It is known that for face-to-face groups, the ideal range spans from five to 10 members,” Basil said. “With online groups, however, there is great potential for the ideal range of group members to exceed that of face-to-face groups. If this is the case, the findings of this research have the ability to change the way groups everywhere interact, by turning online groups from an inconvenient and last-resort method of meeting, to an optimal tool, setting up groups to be bigger and more powerful than ever.”

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