Tips | Research Experience
If you have been attending university for any length of time, you have probably conducted research. In general, research is the prolonged study of any particular subject and results in a final product such as an article, paper, or presentation. This information sheet is designed to provide you with tips for obtaining supervised research opportunities above and beyond your academics.
1. The Value of Research Experience
For those pursuing a career in academia, a background in research is vital. Most graduate schools are looking for innovative students to bolster their ranks, and there is no better way to prove your academic worth than solid research experience. Even for those bound for non-academic careers, research can be beneficial as it provides practical experience, which is valued by employers. Research can also be of personal importance, as it can expand your career and academic horizons in new and unexpected directions.
2. Getting Your Foot in the Door
Volunteering is a great way to gain valuable experience, which can prepare you for more challenging research roles. Volunteer opportunities are often less intensive, but they can give you some preliminary immersion in a research environment. Some professors accept student volunteers to help with their research so get to know your professors and TAs. Ask about their research and the possibility of volunteering (find out more below). Hospitals, charities and non-profit organizations are also places to engage in volunteer research work. Positions may be available in a number of areas, from life sciences to social work. These volunteer opportunities are competitive, so it is important to apply with a well-developed résumé and cover letter. If invited to an interview, it is recommended that you research the organization beforehand. The information you obtain will allow you to ask intelligent questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and your enthusiasm for the opportunity. Attend the Get Experience Fair at UTM (usually held in mid September) to speak with representatives from some of these organizations. Have a look at the “Volunteering” tip sheet, for other ideas and resources.
Working as a Research Assistant (RA) provides experience in research methodology and hones your knowledge and research skills. It also allows you to work with professors and / or graduate students, focusing on one or more existing research projects. For those interested in an academic career, an RA position is also an excellent way to make strategic contacts and references. These positions can stem from volunteering and are generally paid.
The Work-Study program offers many research-oriented positions for students https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/careers/work-study-students. During September and October and in May (for summer work-study positions) across all three campuses, the positions are posted on the CLNx (Career Learning Network) https://clnx.utoronto.ca under the Jobs and Work-Study tabs.
In addition to these listings, the best way to obtain an RA position is to get to know your professors and build networks in your fields of study. Inquire about their current research projects and whether they need additional help. Many professors prefer to hire students they know and many RA positions are not advertised. Start networking with your professors early. Our tip sheet called Academic References has some tips on how to get started with networking with your professors.
Research Opportunity Program, UTM Course Internships and Community Engaged Learning
UTM students can also apply to the Research Opportunities program (ROP) which allows students in their 2nd, 3rd or 4th years to earn a full course credit by participating in a faculty member’s research. Check at https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/rop/ropapp for more details. Availability varies by faculty and year. Some programs also offer Internship Courses https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/experience/students/academic-internships for students to gain experience including research based. The Community Engaged Learning program can also provide research experiences http://www.utm.utoronto.ca/experience/.
Independent Study Courses
Another excellent method of gaining research experience is through a supervised study course. Offered in the majority of programs, these courses allow upper year students to conduct an extensive examination of literature on a selected topic or perform laboratory and/or fieldwork in their area of study. Students must obtain the permission of the department and locate a professor who agrees to supervise them. Consult the course calendar or speak with your departmental advisor.
Developing your Research Network
Make the most of your network. Talk to your professors. They have extensive research networks and may be willing to share contacts. Ask friends, family and colleagues, if they are aware of any professors or industry professionals currently involved in research. Review the U of T Blue Book
https://media.utoronto.ca/bluebook/ or the UTM Online Directory to locate and contact professors. https://app.utm.utoronto.ca/phonebook/ShowPersonnelAction.action
3. Funding opportunities
Studentships and Fellowships
Studentships and fellowships are awarded at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they do have some differences. Studentships tend to refer to undergraduate positions, while fellowships tend to refer to graduate/post-doctoral positions.
Studentships allow students to engage in their own research in an academic, laboratory, or clinical setting. Generally, student research projects are completed under the supervisor of an established researcher. These positions are essentially research internships and usually pay a stipend.
Departmental websites may post current research positions and some departments may compile a database of students looking for opportunities or studentships. Professors would review these databases when they are seeking assistance with research projects or interested in supervising a student research project. A good example is the Faculty of Medicine’s research site, which lists summer studentship opportunities http://medicine.utoronto.ca/research/summer-student-program-information. Networking is also highly recommended and effective at uncovering opportunities.
For additional leads in a variety of fields, search this site: https://pivot.proquest.com/funding_main
which is a database of funding programs in humanities, physical, social and life science. Academic Departments may also have information on possible funding opportunities for independent research. Speak with the Undergraduate Advisor of your department.
Government Funding at a Glance
Government research funding programs specialize in particular research fields. Three main funding bodies are the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) as well as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Funding from these agencies is directed primarily towards faculty, graduate students, or institutions and community agencies. However, undergraduate students who are supervised by a faculty member holding a designated grant may also apply for research funding. NSERC has a dedicated undergraduate research grant, http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Students-Etudiants/UG-PC/USRA-BRPC_eng.asp and CIHR has sporadic grants for undergrads as well.
Although the specifics of the application process may vary, in general, all proposals are awarded through an independent, national, peer-review process. This process involves a selection committee who assess the proposals based on academic excellence and other essential criteria. For more information, consult the following sites:
- NSERC at http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca
- SSHRC at http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca
- CIHR at http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca
Preparing a research proposal
Most organizations require candidates to submit a formal proposal in order to be considered for project funding. It is important that your research project is conceptually sound and a good fit for the organization. Funding organizations like to know how your project complements their philosophy so researching the organization to tailor your proposal is key.
Writing a proposal
Important sections in a proposal include: the Executive Summary - a brief summary of your proposal; the Statement of Need which provides rationale for your project and how it will further the field; the Project Description which outlines your objective, methodology, administrative structure, strategies for evaluation and timelines; and the Budget - lists the type of expenses likely to be incurred and an outline of how funding will be directed. For more information on writing proposals, visit: http://guides.library.illinois.edu/research_proposal
Research Opportunities Abroad
MITACS has an international research program for international undergraduate students
The website GoinGlobal lists international internships in a variety of research areas. Search this site by country of interest via the CLNx https://clnx.utoronto.ca under the resources tab.
Information is subject to change. Always refer to the original sources for the most up to date information. Updated August 2021