Undergraduate Research Explorer
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Making the Most of Your Research Opportunity

“U of T hopes that research opportunities inform our students’ future career pathways by cultivating their capacity to be self-reflective and curious by providing them a first-hand understanding of the incredible research taking place all around them every day at Canada’s top university.”

Leah Cowen

Vice-President, Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives

You have an undergraduate research opportunity, now what?

By engaging in the research process, you will gain knowledge, skills and experiences related to your academic interests and career opportunities.

You also have the opportunity to continue your learnings: using your initial research findings and skills gained to pursue your next opportunity.

Considerations for Your Research

When you take part in a research opportunity, there are clearly established objectives (e.g., collect data, translate text). Along with the research objectives, you should also consider your personal goals. By setting clear and intentional personal goals about what you want to achieve through the experience, including specific skill development and acquiring new knowledge, you will stay focused and make the most of your time and effort. You might review the module Learning Through Experience: Setting Goals to help support you with identifying and establishing your personal goals. We recommend having a conversation at the beginning and end of your experience with your supervisor to share your goals and determine how you might be able to grow in these ways throughout your research experience.

Al-Sehail Noor

Noor’s Story

A fourth-year student in the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, Noor is specializing in Architectural Studies with a minor in Visual Studies. Over two years, Noor had the opportunity to participate in the Laidlaw Leadership and Research Program.

While Noor set learning goals, she wanted to take away from this research experience, she also learned the importance of being flexible with those goals. As she shared, “I realized that the process from proposal to result is far from linear and certainly not straightforward. In fact, the only constants are the final deliverables for the program; even the proposal is not static and can change after one becomes more familiar with the topic.” Recognizing the importance of being flexible with her goals, allowed Noor to remain open up new pathways for research exploration.

Whether you’re a first-year student looking to gain your first research experience outside of coursework or a third-year student wanting to lead a summer research study, you should explicitly identify research skills you hope to further develop and how you will do so. You might consider seeking opportunities to learn from your colleagues and mentor(s), attending workshops, bootcamps or training sessions or taking courses that will help you to fill gaps in your skillset. 

Photo of Kevin Joshy

Kevin’s Story

Kevin is a fourth-year student specializing in Biophysics at the University of Toronto Mississauga. The recipient of a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Student Research Award (NSERC USRA), Kevin learned that research is about being open to the process. As he shared, “Research is very different from regular course work because it is much more open-ended and may not have a specific direction or path to follow.” Kevin was encouraged to try new ideas, remain flexible in research directions, think critically about research results and to “to always be willing to explore new and interesting questions that may come up during the research process.”

Use your research opportunity to build relationships. Whether working one-on-one with a faculty member or as part of a larger team, research is an opportunity to connect with others who could serve as future collaborators, mentors or resources. Even after your research opportunity has ended try to keep in contact: update your connections about your new research-related activities and how you have continued to build on your skills and knowledge from your work together. 

  • You never know if a new opportunity might arise! 
  • If you decide to pursue an independent study, they might be a potential supervisor for your research project.
  • If you intend to apply for graduate or professional school, you might ask them for a letter of reference. Indeed, the more a reference knows about your research-related experiences the stronger the letter they’ll be able to write. 

Kaliyah’s Story

Kaliyah a fourth-year student specializing in Art History with a minor in Classic Civilizations in the Faculty of Arts & Science. During her time at U of T, Kaliyah participated in multiple community-engaged research experiences as well as an international research experience that took her to Palaikastro, Greece.

Of her research experiences, Kaliyah shares: “During my journey, I learned about how research can bring together communities of thinkers that want to celebrate ideas, histories and innovation all while searching for new paths forward and new solutions. The commitment that scholars have to collaboration, and to including community voices outside of academia as well, is incredibly inspiring.”

Always remember, it’s okay to ask questions! Research is a learning opportunity and, especially at the undergraduate-level, faculty do not expect you to have all the answers. By asking questions, you’ll demonstrate you’re engaged and interested in the research process. This is also a chance for you to develop effective communication practices, a skill highly valued by employers. 

  • What channels do you use to communicate (e.g., Teams, Slack, Outlook)?
  • How often do you meet in-person to discuss your research? How do you prepare for in-person meetings, and how are these meetings used?
  • How do you effectively use communication channels to receive and share feedback? Determine next steps for your research? Share research outcomes?
Photo of Hongzip Kim

Hongzip’s Story

Throughout your academic career, you will work to balance your multiple priorities: academic commitments, research, extracurricular activities and personal responsibilities and relationships. Consider how you manage your time, setting deadlines, calendaring and organizing your tasks. You will also need to think about how to establish healthy boundaries and learn to say “no” to opportunities you do not have the capacity to take on or do not align with your research goals or interests. 

Disconnecting from academic work and allowing yourself to recharge and connect with those important in our lives is crucial for maintaining balance and preventing burnout. Remember balance is not about achieving equal time for everything in your life, but rather finding a sustainable and fulfilling way to carry out your various responsibilities and activities.  

Photo of Porsha Taheri

Porsha’s Story

Porsha is a double major in Neuroscience and Biology with a minor in French in the Faculty of Arts & Science. Participating in the Summer Research Exchange Program, Porsha travelled to the Graz, Austria to help run experiments related to visual attention. While her research work was important, she also made time to connect with her colleagues by going on field trips to a local salt mine and famous brewery! This provided Portia with an opportunity to explore new settings and connect with her colleagues. Getting outside of the research lab, ultimately added to the learnings Porsha would take away from her international experience.

Take time to reflect throughout your research experiences. Think about the alignment of your research experience with your overall academic and career goals and how you might discuss the experience in a professional context (e.g., resume / CV, job interview setting, conference). By reflecting on your experiences you’ll gain better self-awareness, identify areas for continued growth and make informed decisions about your future research or academic pursuits. You might ask yourself:

  • What did I learn from this research experience? What new skills or knowledge did I gain?
  • What specific contributions did I make to the research project?
  • What professional relationships have you developed?
  • What challenges did I encounter, and how did I respond?
  • What aspect of the research process excited me the most?
  • How can I build on this research experience? Did this research experience spark new questions or areas of interest for further exploration?
  • How did this research experience align with my future academic or career goals?
Photo of Ainsley Ross-Howe

Ainsley’s Story

Ainsley is a third-year Mechanical Engineering student in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. Reflecting on her experiences as a research assistant, Ainsley shared it taught her to be creative in her approach to solving problems. As she shared, “I think learning how to solve problems independently is something unique to research experience. It can be quite challenging approaching a new problem without a structured understanding of how to find a solution, but it really pushes you to think critically about the topics you’re studying and get creative.”

Find opportunities to share what you’re learning from your research opportunity. When you explain your research and learnings to others, you distill complex and sometimes specialized information into clear and everyday language. Doing so, you will ultimately enhance your understanding of the subject matter, strengthen your grasp of research concepts and improve your communication skills.

  • You might connect the learning from your research opportunity with other course material and bring it up in class discussions. 
  • If you are meeting with faculty to discuss progress on your research, prepare for this meeting and share what you learned, what questions you still have and how you might answer them and next steps. 
  • If you participate in a mentorship program or club, you might share the research opportunity and what you’re gaining from it with the other students. When you communicate your research experiences with your peers, you inspire, motivate and guide others who might be interested in pursuing similar research pathways.
  • You might also look for more formal opportunities to share your research such as conferences or poster sessions. Presenting in more formal contexts, allows you to share back with the research community and engage in scholarly conversations. 
  • Consider opportunities to use social media platforms to share your research
Photo of Claire Zhang 

Claire’s Story

Publishing your work in a scholarly journal demonstrates your research meets the rigorous standards of the peer-review process and has been evaluated by student peers and / or faculty in your field. This process allows you to further engage in scholarly conversations as well as receive further critical feedback to ultimately improve your work.

You might have an opportunity to publish your research in a scholarly journal. At the undergraduate-level, publishing work is not always feasible or expected. However, if this is an opportunity you decide to pursue, you will get to contribute to your field and share new insights into what is already known. A publication also strengthens applications for graduate or professional school. 

  • Co-Publication: in some instances, a faculty member may approach you about developing a co-publication from your research work together. This is an exciting opportunity to collaborate on the writing process as well as expand the audience your research findings will reach. If you are approached by a faculty member, have clear conversations about expectations and workload. 
  • Student Undergraduate Journals: are publications that feature research and scholarly work conducted by undergraduate students and often with the support of a faculty advisor. It is an exciting entry point into the publication process. U of T Libraries offers publishing supports for a host of student journals in a variety of subjects. Review the U of T Student Journal Directory if you are interested in publishing your research or perhaps working on the editorial side of a student journal. 

Conorr’s Story

Conorr is a fourth-year student specializing in Cinema Studies in the Faculty of Arts & Science. As an Editor-in-Chief for the 2022-2023 edition of Caméra Stylo, Cinema Studies Student Union’s Undergraduate Journal, Conorr was responsible for hiring and managing a team of undergraduate editors to select and publish six undergraduate research papers in a volume of the journal.