For undergraduate apprentices, time is money

CAMPUS ISSUES: When UC Berkeley researchers get thousands of dollars for their work, why should students go unpaid?

Emily Bi/Staff

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From managing an open-source computer lab to playing Quidditch on Memorial Glade, UC Berkeley offers almost every extracurricular imaginable, but some of the most sought-after opportunities on campus are the ones offered by the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, or URAP. UC Berkeley is ranked so highly, in part, because of its reputation for being an outstanding research institute — it’s one of the reasons that more than 30,000 undergraduates come to this campus every year from around the world. But for all the opportunities URAP provides, it’s missing one crucial benefit that a huge percentage of this school really needs — consistent financial compensation for students’ work.

URAP does offer course credit, but much more needs to be done to honor the work that students do. At the end of the day, units and the chance to rub shoulders with higher-ups can’t pay for rent or buy groceries. Ultimately, this kind of unpaid work creates a barrier to entry for students who must hold paying jobs to subsidize their educations.

Unfortunately, this problem with UC Berkeley’s undergraduate apprenticeship program isn’t isolated — there is a huge crisis surrounding young students and unpaid work. Thousands of students give up hours of their time, all in the hopes of building rapport with renowned experts or getting letters of recommendation. But it’s time to stop normalizing free labor from students — if UC Berkeley wants to make these educational experiences more accessible, it needs to start offering financial compensation to all students who do important work for the campus and its associated labs.

Although URAP does provide some funding for apprentices, they are limited. The program awards a summer stipend to about 30 to 35 students, but it encourages faculty members to use their own funds — if they have them — to pay their staff. Regardless of the time of year or whether faculty funds are available, some kind of monetary reward must be available to everyone. There may not be funding to hand out a stipend or paycheck to all these undergrads, but small efforts such as offering work-study could be a big step toward acknowledging the valuable work these young students do.

Work-study gives students on campus the opportunity to do on-campus work while also getting a monetary reward. URAP must put in place a system like this in order to give credit to students who do important work in campus labs. As much as students need research positions to gain real-world experience, mentors and professors need these students’ labor and minds to get their projects done. If UC Berkeley really wants to show that it values its undergraduate apprentices, it must start compensating them.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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