Undergraduate Research Explorer
U of T logo

Recruiting Undergraduate Researchers

“Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are resources for excellence: research is stronger when everyone is welcome in our classrooms, in our labs, in our fieldwork and in our research partnerships.”

Leah Cowen

Vice-President,
Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives

The University of Toronto is committed to ensuring all undergraduate students see themselves represented in research opportunities and feel encouraged and able to participate. By recognizing barriers and actively working to create more inclusive and equitable research spaces, you can help to ensure that a diversity of students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful research experiences.

Diverse research teams also help to strengthen your research. As a think piece on the Canadian Research Chairs program shared, “The diversity of a team can help drive and shape research questions, methods and perspectives. Diverse teams tend to be smarter, demonstrate fewer biases and errors, make better decisions and generate research with greater impact.”

Barriers

It can be exciting for students to engage in research at U of T, to have the opportunity to work with you on cutting-edge research projects and to put their classroom learning into action in tangible ways. However, there are a number of barriers to engagement faced by students that can impact their ability to get involved with research. These barriers create particular challenges for students from equity-deserving groups, Indigenous students and students who are the first in their family to attend university.

The hidden curriculum has been described as “unintended messages, underpinning norms, values and assumptions that are often so unquestioned that they have become invisible” (Koutsouris et. al, 2021). Students often bring-up themes surrounding the “hidden curriculum” in discussing their attitudes and perceptions towards undergraduate research. In sharing examples of the hidden curriculum, they express their experiences with a lack of transparency on the availability of research opportunities as well as how students are selected for competitive research opportunities.  

Systemic and structural barriers also impact student engagement with research and, in some instances, constitute further examples of the hidden curriculum. For instance, students who are the first in their family to attend university and international students can experience a lack of ‘academic capital’ (e.g., knowledge of research terminology, research processes, application procedures) that leaves them at a disadvantage when trying to navigate the often-complex pathways to access research opportunities. Learn more here.

By engaging students from equity-deserving communities in your research, you will increase the diversity of perspectives and ideas, improve innovation and problem solving and have access to a larger talent pool (Bhalla, 2019).


You might consider opportunities to support your students in learning more about research experiences. For example, Mentorship & Peer Programs annually holds the session, “Engaging in Research as Black, Latin American, Southeast Asian & First Generation Undergraduate Students”. In this session, students discuss their experiences with wayfinding and research and demand for equitable access to research opportunities. 



Have you posted your research position on CLNx? CLNx, or the Career Learning Network, is a platform for U of T students to explore and access research, co-curricular and job opportunities at U of T and beyond. In posting your research position on CLNx, you will help to ensure equitable access to your position as it will be available to all students across the tri-campuses. 


Student Outreach

Inclusive outreach efforts reflect the diversity of our students and will help students feel represented by your opportunity, potentially leading to improved uptake and participation (MacKay et. al, 2022). As you recruit students to participate in research opportunities, it’s important to be mindful of barriers students encounter in accessing research opportunities and address them.

You might refer to this list of questions as you consider access to your research opportunity. Learn more about inclusive hiring approaches to hiring students with the Advancing Equitable & Inclusive Experiential Learning Opportunities: A Five-Stage Framework from the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Hiring and Retaining Diverse Students: A Toolkit from St. George’s Career Exploration & Education in partnership with colleagues across the University and multiple peer institutions.


Consider the approach of Professor Elspeth Brown, Director, Critical Digital Humanities, and Associate Vice-Principal Research, University of Toronto Mississauga. For her project on the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory, Professor Elspeth Brown created a collaborative laboratory where team members came together to share work, ideas and new knowledge concerning the creation of LGBTQ oral histories in the digital age.

Wanting to create a diverse team for her “collaboratory”, Professor Brown reached out to members of the LGBTQ student community at U of T by creating fliers, sharing announcements and engaging in conversations with community members, thereby raising awareness of and access to the research opportunity.


Interviews

Remember interviews are also a learning space for undergraduate students. They learn how to prepare for interviews and use their research knowledge and experiences to effectively respond to questions. To help support students through this process, you might consider making these interview accommodations recommended by Hiring and Retaining Diverse Students: A Toolkit.

As part of student learning from the application and interview process, consider asking unsuccessful candidates if they would welcome feedback. How to improve when applying and/or interviewing for their next research role? If you notice trends in the applications received, share an email with general feedback for students and links to resources (e.g., resume workshops, academic advising appointments) as well as information about the number of applications versus the number of positions available.