Diving into research

Arts undergrads undertake faculty-supervised projects through summer internship program

Summer research internships at McGill aren’t confined to science labs. Thanks to a program known as the Arts Research Internship Awards (ARIA), dozens of undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts receive financial support to undertake research under the direct supervision of a faculty member, in fields ranging from Anthropology to Visual Art Collection.

Students are given an award of $2,500, matched by their supervisor for a total of $5,000. During their internship, undergraduate undertake qualitative and quantitative research requiring thoroughness, self-discipline, and personal initiative, and providing critical input to the professor’s research.

Since its inauguration in 2010, 490 students have participated in the ARIA program, supported by a total of $1.8 million in funds, including alumni donations.

Valuable experience

For students, the primary draw to participating in ARIA is gaining valuable research experience that can help prepare them for potential career paths.

For Malicka Ouedraogo, a U3 student in Psychology, the ARIA internship provided crucial experience for the career path she is contemplating.

“It was a good way for me to know whether or not [pursuing a graduate degree] was for me,” she says. Malicka worked on her research project, “The Importance of Affirming Black Values” under the supervision of Professor Régine Debrosse of the Faculty of Arts’ School of Social Work. Malicka met Professor Debrosse through the mentorship program of the McGill Black Alumni Association in Fall 2021, and she encouraged Malicka to apply for the ARIA.

Discovering a passion

Malicka Ouedraogo

“The interdisciplinary approach of Dr. Debrosse’s research sparked my interest in social psychology, child development and racial identity. It helped me discover a new passion for research,” says Malicka, who now plans to pursue a graduate degree in clinical psychology.

"Witnessing her interest for research develop through the summer was beautiful,” says Professor Debrosse. “One thing that was rewarding was to watch her become adept at conducting and interpreting increasingly complex statistical analyses when at the beginning of the summer she had never used a software like SPSS -- her progress was great!”

During her internship, Malicka learned how to code data through SPSS Statistics, a statistical software suite used for data management and advanced analytics, as well as conduct and interpret ANOVAs (analysis of variance, a statistical method), and contextualize findings with the existing literature.

“These skills make many courses related to research methods and statistics much easier,” Malicka says.

A research trip to Nepal

Taarini Andlay, a U2 student in International Development Studies, worked on her research project, “Women's Job Satisfaction in Nepal: A Sociological Analysis using a Human Development Lens,” under the supervision of Professor Sarah Brauner-Otto of the Department of Sociology. After taking Professor Brauner-Otto’s SOCI 234: Population and Society, Taarini approached her with an idea for an ARIA project.

“I am mainly interested in studying development in the South Asian context,” says Taarini. “After learning that Professor Brauner-Otto’s research was based out of Nepal I knew this was an opportunity I could not pass on.”

Taarini Andlay

At first, Taarini expected to learn how to use a statistical software and conduct a literature review on a sociological topic related to women’s employment in Nepal. To her immense surprise, Taarini’s ARIA experience began with a trip to a research institute in Nepal to conduct background contextual research.

“Visiting the research institute in Nepal taught me how to navigate institutional protocol,” Taarini says. “[Conducting] interviews with residents who spoke Nepali gave me an insight into what navigating language barriers with translators is like and how to conduct myself when I’m out in the field.”

"Taarini is an incredibly bright woman who is also very aware of many of the conflicts and inconsistencies in the world around her,’ Professor Brauner-Otto says. “We had many challenging conversations about our project, about the implications for research in the real world, particularly with respect to her home country of India, and about other social issues.”

Like Malicka, Taarini learned how to use statistical software and the logical yet creative process of curating a data set, skills that will undoubtedly be required in higher level courses.

“Working with data, re-coding variables, and running commands on a statistical software made me discover that I quite enjoy working with numbers and analyzing them,” Taarini says. “I became aware of how important collecting good data is and the serious implications data can have for people’s lives when it forms the basis of policies. In fact, I have begun considering a career in policy-design and research, which I never did before!”

Supportive supervisors

Regular meetings with supervisors are a cornerstone of the ARIA experience. Both Taarini and Malicka had weekly meetings to discuss their progress and to talk through any problems that they were stuck on. “Dr. Debrosse has been very supportive and available for the entire duration of my internship,” Malicka says. “As my supervisor, she provided me with emotional support that increased my intrinsic motivation for learning more and achieving my goals.”

Taarini echoes Malicka’s sentiments. “Professor Brauner-Otto was extremely encouraging throughout the process and would patiently answer my questions,” says Taarini. “I had some of the most insightful conversations with her on the most random topics and learned a tremendous amount from her perspectives on important subjects. I am deeply grateful for her constant support and for agreeing to work on an ARIA project with me over the summer!”

Showcase event

Towards the end of their research, ARIA participants are tasked with creating a final research poster showcasing their researching findings. The posters are then presented during the Annual Arts Undergraduate Research Event, which usually takes place in the fall.

Anne Turner, Internship Manager at the Arts Internship office, credits former Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi, now Interim Principal of McGill, as the driving force behind the creation of ARIA 12 years ago. Recognizing a gap in opportunities for undergraduate research in the Faculty of Arts, particularly for students contemplating an academic career, he started the program, which is funded largely by donors and participating professors’ research grants. The Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University and the Dean of Arts Development Fund also provide support.

Read more about Malicka's ARIA internship experience

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