Undergraduate Research Explorer
U of T logo

Applying to Research Opportunities

In reviewing research opportunities, you need to closely review the ways in which you can get involved. The Undergraduate Research Explorer is a starting point to begin your search for research opportunities. Many research opportunities require you to submit an application well in advance of the opportunity taking place. As you’re reviewing the application procedure you’ll want to note:

  • What is the application deadline?
  • Will I need to submit supplemental documentation (e.g., plan of study, U of T transcript)?
  • How do my research interests intersect with this opportunity? 
  • What research skills do I bring to this opportunity, including those developed in class, while also allowing me the opportunity for growth? 

It is key to your success to tailor your application materials to the specific opportunity you are applying for. As you look for support with the development of your application, you might consider if there is an information session for the specific research opportunity, if your academic unit or undergraduate student association holds research workshops or review the Career Learning Network, CLNx, for career supports and resources such as resume and cover letter workshops.  

If you’re applying to a student-led research opportunity (e.g., Independent or Supervised Research Study Courses, Student Fellowships / Studentships), you might also be required to outline a plan of study as part of the application materials. This plan of study will:

  • Most student-led research opportunities are a chance for you to conduct an in-depth study on a topic that excites your curiosity but is not offered through other avenues at the University. In this instance, you will use your plan of study to outline the topic you intend to study and how you intend to approach the study. 
  • Some Student Fellowships / Studentships will outline a specific topic they would like research projects to address (e.g., food sustainability in the Greater Toronto Area). In this instance, you will outline in your plan of study how your proposed research topic responds to this specific topic and then share how you intend to approach the study.

As you write your plan of study, your academic unit along with the faculty member(s) who will be supervising your research project will be excellent resources. Typically, a plan of study will include:


Research Questions

What are the research questions you intend to study through your project? Make sure that these research questions are manageable for the length of your project (e.g., six-months, a year).


Literature Review

Research does not exist in a vacuum, and you’ll be building on the work of other scholars. You might be asked to identify the scholars and research work that will inform your proposed project.



What sources will you be using to discover answers to your research questions? Will you be using data or information that already exists or generating original source material? If the latter, remember this might require additional time in your proposed study.


Methodological Approach

You will need to outline how you will approach the study of your topic.

If you’re applying for a faculty-led research opportunity, you might take time to learn more about the faculty member you’ll be working with. You could begin by searching for the faculty member on Discover Research or their profile on their academic unit’s website. Faculty often share information about ongoing or past research projects, which might help further contextualize the opportunity you are interested in (e.g., methodology or how they approach the study of their research focus). In some instances, you will be asked to submit a cover letter or letter of intent / interest along with your application. Generally, you will be asked to share:


Your interest in the research project

What is it about this specific project that drew your interest and prompted your application?


Your research skills and experience

What skills and experiences do you bring to this project that makes you well qualified for the role?


Your continued growth as a researcher

Remember, undergraduate research experiences represent an opportunity for learning and growth. Faculty researchers will be eager to learn about your skillset but also how your work on the project will contribute to your continued growth as a researcher and future plans.

Setbacks and Missteps

Setbacks and missteps are a part of the learning process, both in university and beyond. It’s important to learn how to navigate these obstacles effectively and discover paths to move forward.

Reflection is a key part of learning from setback and missteps. If you do not secure your desired research role, take a moment to reflect and remember there are multiple ways to get involved and develop experiences at the University:

  • Begin to think about alternate ways to develop your skills to make yourself a stronger candidate. Ask your community about ways to gain research experience: undergraduate student colleagues, teaching assistants, graduate students, faculty, librarians and staff are all resources for you to draw on. 
  • Consider the core skills and experiences you had hoped to gain from the research opportunity. Communication skills? Critical thinking? Leadership? Problem-solving? Getting involved with your community? You might consider consulting with a student support office about different options including opportunities to join clubs and groups, mentorship and leadership opportunities and ways to get involved with community projects. These options allow you to meet and collaborate with peers, learn about new opportunities and gain skills and experience.
  • While learning from setbacks and missteps sounds like a simple concept, as a team of U of T scholars recently argued, “it is complex and messy, and isn’t always accessible to everyone in the same way.” There are structural and systemic barriers that impact students’ ability to navigate missteps. 

You are encouraged to reach out to student support offices, instructors, teaching assistants and other members of your U of T community to further discuss and gain support for how you might respond to setbacks and missteps. 

In the podcast Fish Outta Water: A First-Year Survival Guide, Tulip Marawi, a U of T graduate student, reflects back on her experiences as a second-year undergraduate student. She recalls coming across a summer research opportunity at a Toronto area hospital that aligned with her area of interest and feeling so “excited and eager” to apply. However, when it came time to apply, she hesitated and thought to herself: “No one is going to take me, I just finished my first year, I don’t have anything to bring to the table and those projects seem way too complex for me….” Looking back, Tulip realizes she gave up on herself too fast and wonders where this missed research opportunity might have taken her.