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Undergraudate Students - February 2010

The full version of the February CAPSScoop can be found by clicking here.


Articles in this edition

Finding a Research Job in Science and Applying for NSERC

Instead of Finding a Job, Create One

Get on the School Bus - Tips for Internships and Jobs


Finding a Research Job in Science and Applying for NSERC

by Heidi Wat, U3 Anatomy and Cell Biology

For many first/second year science students, finding a research job seems impossible. Although most research labs give the impression of only accepting Master’s students to be only accepting Master’s students, most science students do work in a lab at some point in their undergraduate careers. The obvious advantages are to have academic work experience to put on your C.V. or to obtain reference letters for applications to professional programs. If you are one of the lost U0/U1 students, you may opt for one the following approaches to starting your search:

1) Mass email professors

It is very important to cast a wide net because it is normal to receive a lot of rejections (simply because popular labs are always full) or no responses from most of your emails. To optimize your chances, make sure you personalize the message, research the professor’s research interests and talk about why you want to work in their lab. It doesn’t have to be an essay, but it will make the professor less inclined to ignore it. It would be a good idea to include your C.V. and unofficial transcript in the first email (especially if you have a high GPA), simply because they will ask for these items eventually.

If you don’t know where to start, compile a list of your favourite professors and look up their research subjects and pick out the ones that interest you. Most science professors have research labs of their own, so the options are endless. You can also check out the research opportunity listing for undergrads here: http://mecc.mcgill.ca/profsurvey/students/listing.php

2) Consider an undergraduate research course

The advantage is that you will get to work on an independent research project that may be more interesting than the technical and routine tasks (ie. PCR, keeping colonies, etc.) of some research jobs. But be prepared for the time commitment, since a majority of the grading will be based on participation (whether you show up in lab). For more information, see http://www.mcgill.ca/science/ours/396/

3) If you have good grades, apply for an NSERC

The NSERC website is there, but it’s not very helpful for students who just want to know “how much work is the application.” The key is starting your search early.

Below are some key points about getting an NSERC award.

How to find a supervisor?

  • Your supervisor must hold an NSERC grant. Try to obtain a list of NSERC approved researchers (ask your departmental advisor) and check out their research interests. Susan Gabe has a list for the Biology Department and Vittoria Catania does for Anatomy and Cell Biology. You can find a list of contact information for other departments here: < ahref="http://www.mcgill.ca/science/ours/nserc/">http://www.mcgill.ca/science/ours/nserc/
  • Email/contact the professors in person and see if they are still accepting students. It would be a good idea to have your C.V. and unofficial transcript attached – particularly if your GPA is strong.
  • You will need to meet them for an “interview” (depending on the professor this may be anything from an informal chat to a formal job interview). Be prepared to talk about why you want to have this position, what you expect from it and why this field of research interests you.

Is there any writing involved?

  • You DO NOT have to write/submit any research proposal (your supervisor does that) when applying.
  • Don’t worry about filling out any forms until you find a supervisor. They will provide you with the forms.
  • During the course of the project, NSERC does not require you to write any report/research article on your work. Depending on your supervisor, you may have to write a research summary or do presentations to your lab group.

How does the nomination process work?

  • Each professor may nominate up to two students, but they usually nominate only one. Professors also tend to choose students on a first-come-first serve basis.

What criteria is used for the allocation of awards?

  • Once you get nominated, the final approval is granted from the NSERC people. They usually give two awards per department and it’s based primarily on your GPA and the research proposal of your supervisor.
  • Preference is given to students in their 3rd or 4th year.

How long is the research project?

  • You must work full-time for 16 consecutive weeks, so basically be prepared to commit one whole summer to it.
  • You cannot try to finish your work earlier, so you can squeeze in trip to the Bahamas. But if you start immediately in May, you will still have 2 weeks left of summer to bask in the sunshine.

Whether you want a research job to spice up your C.V., apply for med school or get a reference letter, it definitely helps to have research experience during your undergraduate career. Make sure to start early and don’t procrastinate! Also, don’t forget to pass by the CaPS office for a mock interview or a reviewing of your CV and cover letter.

Instead of Finding a Job, Create One

by Donald Oxford York, Graduate in Psychology

I graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. I did not anticipate how difficult it would be to find a job upon graduation.

In Quebec, having a B.A had become obsolete in the present work force. During this time frame, another hindrance was based on my poor written and oral communication in French. Finding work proved to be challenging and getting a paid above minimum wage was difficult, average hourly rate was about $6.50 to $6.90 at that time.

I attribute these complications to lack of career planning, poor advice, no mentorship and inappropriate guidance. These errors left me with no option but to work two part-time minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. My first job was within a library restocking shelves and the second was within a shoe factory assembly line. At some point, I needed additional hours to cover basic needs and assist my dependent. None of these jobs were full time positions or secure positions. So, I ended up at La Ronde sweeping floors, frying beaver tails and selling beer. Now, how’s that for three years of undergraduate study?

Being optimistic, I looked collectively at my work experience as a way to move up eventually to a junior management position. However, the rational and logical side realized that it takes a great deal of time and years to move upwards in a command and control hierarchical structure. Also, baseline employees are rarely recognized as they are simply being used for production only, not talent.

At that point, I had reapplied to CEGEPT to study a career program in Respiratory and Anesthesia technology (R.A.T). By Fall 2000, I was accepted into the RAT program. Transitioning back to CEGEPT after going to university was difficult being a mature student. This sentiment is also true when having to return to repeat a second undergraduate degree to move forward career wise.

Despite all my newly found revelations, I was elated by the fact that in two years I would become a health care practitioner and have solid career options. I worked within various hospitals throughout the McGill University Health centers (MUHC) for 6 years to pay off debt, establish a solid credit, assist family and prepare for the next steps in my career. I was confident, content and had established a solid career base and was ready to build upon it. I had a secure job that was in high demand and recession proof, until I had a car accident that left me with some scarring physical/psychological injuries. My new vision was to establish an organization to provide compassion, spirituality and humanization of care on a micro level and to re-establish faith in health professional’s ability to care for others.

Hence, the creation of Oxford York Health Care. I have been in operation for six years now and offer multidimensional services based on my secondary skills and learned informal education. I have six independent contractors who specialize in various disciplines found within my own talents. It is important to explore and reflect upon your nature when creating a job for yourself, you will have conflict if it goes against who you are. I have been caring for family members from six years old and providing them with assistance. This is an innate and environmental skill developed throughout my childhood, it cannot be taken away from me, it can’t be learnt, a talent that is needed by others and comes naturally. Therefore, it is important to explore individual talents and extract key elements within each of them to create a multitude of subdivisions that can be used to start building new programs and create work for yourself. Sometimes you must make things happen without waiting for them to take place. You will be surprised to see how easily and quickly work can be created when you have a strong sense of self. With this knowledge, merging life experiences with formal education, getting a mentor is beneficial for this aspect.


  1. Know who you are, explore innate talents and their needs within society.
  2. Establish a solid base for yourself, in order to have something to fall back on. This will establish your credibility to move forward career wise later on.
  3. Get mentorship from services such as CaPS, it is difficult to think alone and there are many paths to achieve goals that aren’t common knowledge nor can be read but comes only from someone who has gone before you.
  4. Create a business plan that will work from day one, not five days from now, through self-exploration and need of what you want to do.
  5. Take advantage of the new trends in accredited universities offering online course work to further your professional career.
  6. Cut your overhead costs and provide excellent service at a cheaper cost.
  7. Don’t go into business to make loads of money, this isn’t the right attitude. Income comes from demand of service, excellence in delivery of service, best costs, word of mouth and supportive networks. If you think about money, you loose clientele and the support of people that is more valuable than money itself. Your business will flourish if you listen to what your clients need not what you want to give to them.
  8. Be honest and humane; promote your skills/talents as the number one product. Your goal should be to establish a long-term relationship with clientele and with partnering companies, not deterring them.
  9. Improve the lives of others and people will count on you to do so.

Get on the School Bus - Tips for Internships and Jobs

by Doaa Farid, Peer Educator Program Coordinator

Standing at the corner of University and Sherbrooke at 7:30am, you may encounter an unusual episode among the normal walking zombies on the Montréal streets: a tall girl in a long black skirt sprinting across campus trying to get on a shuttle. Yup, that’s me! Being a student, I have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to catch my 45 min ride to go to class. It makes me reflect on how in order to arrive from one point to another you sometimes need a vector to get to your target destination. In a similar vein, for a prospective job seeker, this ride may symbolize an internship, a summer job or even a volunteer opportunity. You can consider them as mediums for you to broaden your network and get a taste of the real world. On the bus, I get to talk to the half-asleep person beside me and learn of their background. Not only that, I meet people from different fields and get exposed to their research concentrations. Hence, you definitely increase your contact list!

When experiencing a rough relationship, we tend to brush off the positive experiences you get from it. You might end up understanding your complex personality and weigh your likes and dislikes. Perhaps at that point in time getting what you wanted would be devastating for you in the future. Similarly, even if you fail in getting the internship or job you applied for, it is crucial to follow up and keep asking for prospective openings. Employers like to see persistency in a future employee: a value usually overlooked by the applicant. Otherwise, try other options, like opportunities overseas, to experience a more diverse job market.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing your résumé:

  • Don’t skip fine details such as grammar mistakes or inconsistency in your CV or cover letter. If your headings are in bold letters then make sure all are in bold characters. Also, spaces and punctuations do matter for some recruiters. So don’t brush over them.
  • Remember that your résumé is the only thing that the recruiting coordinator sees of you. You need to perfect it in order for you to survive the screening procedure. So don’t forget to drop by the CaPS office to have it reviewed before you submit it.
  • Don’t give them any excuses to shred your résumé or delete your email. When sending out an email, make sure to address them in a proper manner and watch for mistakes. Proofread everything!
  • Share your life story. Reading it, will make the recruiter say “Aww! This seems like an interesting individual. Let’s give them a chance.” Not really but you get the idea. If you personalize your cover letter, you make it worth reading.

Félicitation! You got the internship; hence don’t forget these brief points:

  • You are there to contribute to the organization but also to enhance your professional skills. Go beyond the job duties and prove yourself in needed fields of the company by brainstorming with the employees.
  • Keep their contacts and follow-up!

Check myFuture regularly for new job postings and before you apply make sure to visit us at the CaPS office.


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