Frequently Asked Questions for 396 courses

For Professors

Can I supervise two students in the same semester?

In general, yes.

The Office for Undergraduate Research in Science recommends that each student should have a separate project, and that you set things up such that the first student’s work does not affect the second student’s grade.

Some departments require a separate project description for each student.

All projects require departmental approval, so additional requirements may apply.

I have questions about how to complete the form and what to sign.

Please refer to the student FAQs below.


For Students: Finding projects and supervisors

When should I start to contact professors?

While there is no universal answer, a common guideline is to contact professors at least one semester in advance, a little more for the summer. Some professors can take students on shorter notice. Others may fill their labs farther in advance

What do professors look for in students interested in undergraduate research?

Many things!

Make it clear why you are contacting this professor and not her colleague across the hall. Demonstrate familiarity with (and interest in) the professor’s research. Try to make a connection to your past experience, current interests, and future goals.

Do not overlook skills, attributes, or interests that might not seem academic to you; your summer job working in an automotive garage, scuba diving experience, or training on a musical instrument could interest an experimental physicist, marine biologist, or cognitive neuroscientist respectively.

I want to try out research, but I have not identified a specific hypothesis or research question. Is this a problem?

No, this is usually not a problem. The professor typically assigns you a project or helps you define one, based on your skills and interests, and perhaps the burning and unsolved questions in the professor’s research group.

Please also refer to the previous FAQ, "What do professors look for in students when it comes to undergraduate research?".

Which departments offer 396 courses?

All Faculty of Science departments offer a 396 course, as well as the School of Environment, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, the biomedical departments in the Faculty of Medicine which offer B.Sc. degrees (Anatomy & Cell Biology, Biochemistry, Microbiology & Immunology, Pharmacology, Physiology), and a few other departments in the Faculty of Medicine (Medical Physics, Human Genetics).

Please refer to the full list of 396 courses (participating departments).

How can I find a project for a 396 course?

The Office for Undergraduate Research in Science posts vacant projects for professors who wish to advertise projects available in their research lab. You will find these on the project listings.

Note however most projects are not advertised. Most 396 projects are formed when students contact a professor directly (even if the professor does not know the student), discuss and agree on a project, and complete the required form. You can browse the current and past project listings for ideas. Please also refer to the next FAQ.

Where can I find a supervisor for a 396 course? How can I find more research projects?

Find the professors whose research interests you, and talk with them!

You can contact the professors in the departments that interest you. There is advice on how to talk to professors on the How to get involved in research webpage, as well as links to other research resources for undergraduate students. Please also refer to the question below, “Who is an eligible supervisor for a 396 course?”

There are not many available projects listed right now. When will more projects be posted?

The Office for Undergraduate Research in Science posts vacant projects when professors submit them for posting. Projects are posted on a rolling basis, so we are unable to provide a specific date for when more projects will be posted. We encourage you to check the website and listings regularly.

Also note that listings of available projects are only a small fraction of what is available. More often than not, the best way to find a project is to contact professors directly. Please refer to the two previous FAQs.

I see “other projects available” next to a project on the webpage of “396” listings. What does this mean?

The supervisor already has a student for this particular project, but is interested to offer other projects to other students. If this project or the professor’s research interests you, get in touch to discuss other possible projects you might be able to take on.


For Students: About supervisors

Who is an eligible supervisor for a 396 course?

In general, the supervisor is a professor (assistant professor, associate professor, or full professor) from the department or program offering the course. For example, BIOL 396 projects are generally supervised by Biology professors.

This means that if your proposed supervisor is from a department that does not offer a 396 course (for example, a professor from Oncology or Mechanical Engineering), it may not possible to receive permission to register for a 396 course.

There are exceptions described in the following FAQs.

Who is an eligible supervisor for NSCI 396 (Neuroscience) or COGS 396 (Cognitive Science)? What else should I know about these two courses?

These courses are different because Cognitive Science and Neuroscience are multi-disciplinary, and are not based in single departments.

NSCI 396 supervisors should be established neuroscientists at McGill University. You can find neuroscience researchers in many departments.

COGS 396 is for Cognitive Science projects only. You may work with any professor affiliated with McGill as long as your project is in the field of Cognitive Science. The Cognitive Science Research Courses webpage provides more information about what Cognitive Science is, as well as advice on finding a supervisor.

To sign up for either COGS 396 or NSCI 396, after you and your supervisor have agreed upon a project, submit your signed project proposal form to the Interdisciplinary Programs Adviser in Dawson Hall (4th floor), rather than submitting it to the supervisor’s or course’s department office.

Who is an eligible supervisor for FSCI 396 (Research Project in Science Teaching and Learning)?

For FSCI 396, students will be co‐supervised by the FSCI 396 Coordinator, who will provide advice and access to pedagogical resources, and a Professor teaching in a Faculty of Science course (Supervisor), who will participate in formulating the research proposal, provide context and background information. The Coordinator and Supervisor will both evaluate the student based on a written final report, overall research performance and an oral presentation.

My proposed supervisor is from a different department than mine. Which 396 course do I take?

Usually, you take the course that corresponds to your professor’s department. For example: Pharmacology student + Biochemistry professor = BIOC 396.

Please note that this applies to 396 courses. For other research courses, such as honours projects, different guidelines may apply. Contact the course coordinator for that course, or the department offering that course.

My supervisor is not a professor from one of the departments offering a 396 course. What can I do?

First, double-check with the professor whether she or he holds additional academic appointments, such as associate member status in a second department, or a joint appointment in two departments. Cross-appointments are common, especially in life sciences disciplines.

If your project is in the fields of Neuroscience or Cognitive Science, refer to the information above about NSCI 396 and COGS 396.

You can check if your professor’s department has a different research course that you might take instead.

As an exception, you might still be able to get approval for your project if it is co-supervised by a professor who is from the department offering the course. Which department’s course would you take in this case? You could ask your own home department, or the department where the proposed research most closely fits. If your primary supervisor has a research collaborator who is a professor in one of the departments offering 396 courses, you might ask that department too. Please read the FAQ below about co-supervision.

If your professor is from another Quebec university, the Inter-University Transfer (IUT) system may help. It may be possible to register for a research course at the host university, and transfer the credits to McGill. Pay close attention to the IUT deadlines and procedures.

What is co-supervision? Why and when might this happen?

Sometimes students have more than one supervisor for a research project; this is co-supervision.

Please note that approval of co-supervision is an exception, not a routine arrangement.

Co-supervision can allow you to benefit from the expertise of two different researchers. For example: a MDPH 396 project in medical informatics, jointly supervised by both a Medical Physics professor and a Computer Science professor.

Alternatively, when your primary supervisor is not from the academic unit offering the course, you might have a second supervisor who is from that unit. For example: an ANAT 396 project in cancer metastasis, where you are working in the lab of a non-Anatomy professor, with an Anatomy professor as a co-supervisor to help you or your primary supervisor as needed.


For Students: The project proposal form

Do my supervisor and I need to complete a project proposal form? Where can we find the form?

The mandatory project proposal form is available as a webform. First the student or the supervisor submits it online, and then both of you sign a hardcopy.

Who can submit the project proposal webform?

It is best if the professor supervising the project submits the webform.

You (the student) can submit it instead if you have all the required information. Read over the form first, and pay special attention to the required fields, noted with a red asterisk.

Anyone with McGill credentials can sign in and submit the form – for example, a postdoc working in the professor’s lab.

What happens when we submit the webform for the project proposal? Who receives an email copy?

When you submit the webform, it generates email copies.

The supervisor should always receive a copy, because the supervisor’s email is a required field on the webform.

The student may or may not receive a copy, because the student’s email is an optional field (and that is because professors can also submit “vacant” projects, where they are looking for students).

The Office for Undergraduate Research in Science also receives a copy of the project proposal, and uses these to create web postings for the 396 project listings online.

We have submitted the 396 form. I cannot find the project online. Why? How can I proceed?

When you submit a project proposal, the webform automatically generates emails, not web postings. It takes time for the Office for Undergraduate Research in Science (OURS) to create web postings. Furthermore OURS does not post all projects online.

You do not actually need the web/online version. You or your supervisor can print the email version (see previous FAQ) as your application form.

Do you post all 396 projects online? Which projects do you post?

The Office for Undergraduate Research in Science (OURS) prioritizes posting “vacant” or open projects where professors do not yet have a student for the project. This is an advertising, matching, and recruitment service for students and professors.

OURS also posts “taken” projects where professors indicate that they are interested to take further students.

OURS does not generally post “taken” projects where the professors indicate they are not taking further students.

Posting projects online is a manual process, and may take time, especially at busy times of the year.

We have submitted the 396 project proposal webform. No one received an email copy. Why?

Do not panic; your submission is probably saved as a draft.

It is normal that it takes a few minutes to receive the email.

Did you miss a required field (marked with a red asterisk)? In particular, check off at least one box in the “Ethics, safety, and training” section, even if it is “none of the above”. Press submit again, and watch closely for validation or error messages.

If you still do not receive the email, contact the Office for Undergraduate Research in Science. Please indicate who completed the form, and when. As long as you pressed either “Save Draft” or “Submit Form”, we can usually find a copy of your draft or complete submission.


For Students: Getting approval, registering, and MINERVA

What do my supervisor and I print? What do we sign?

After you have submitted the project proposal form, print either the web posting or the email version to serve as your application form.

The email version is a plain-text document, which does not look fancy. This is normal.

Read the form. Make sure you understand and agree with what is being proposed.

If the student information section is incomplete (name, email, program of study, etc.), please complete this legibly.

Near the bottom of the form, there are areas for both the student and the supervisor to sign.

Where do I submit my signed form?

To request permission to register, take your signed form to the appropriate office. This might be different from your home department.

The course number (ANAT 396, ATOC 396, etc) determines the “appropriate office”. This is usually the administrative office corresponding to the professor’s department.

For COGS 396 or NSCI 396, submit your signed project proposal form to the Interdisciplinary Programs Adviser on the 4th floor of Dawson Hall.

After I submit my signed form, what happens next? When and how do I actually register?

The department will review your project proposal. If they have questions, they may ask you or your supervisor.

They will let you know if they reject or approve your request.

If they approve your request, they will grant you permission to register.

You should then be able to register on Minerva. Try the “Quick add” function, if you know the CRN.

When is my 396 project proposal form due?

For projects in the Fall and Winter: It is best to complete the registration process before the term starts. Some departments may insist on this. Otherwise, you should bring it to the departmental office at least a few days before the end of the “add/drop” registration period, to allow you time to register on MINERVA after you receive the departmental decision.

For projects in the Summer: The best thing is to submit your form before May. It may be possible to register without a late registration fee after May 1 because there are several sessions within the summer term, each with its own registration deadline. For example, you could register during the month of May for a 396 course in the session that starts in June.

Can I register for a 396 course more than once?

Yes, but each must be for a different project, and with a different supervisor.

If I take a 396 course with a professor, can I take a second research course with that same professor?

Maybe. Ask your department if they have a different (non-396) research project course you can take with them the second time.

Minerva says that there is no space available in the 396 course I would like to take. Is this a problem?

No. What matters is having an eligible supervisor and getting departmental approval for your project, so you can register before the “add/drop” deadline. Don’t worry about the lack of space, which can be overridden when you receive permission to register.

Minerva says that ABCD 396 course is not offered in the Winter term. Can I take the course then?

Probably! If you have a project, and if the ABCD department approves it, they can open a section on Minerva for you.

Can I take a 396 course in the summer?

Some students take 396 courses in the summer, but please consider the following.

It is up to each department to determine the semester(s) in which they offer their 396 courses.

Some professors prefer to take summer students on a full-time basis for most or all of the summer. A 396 course counts for 3 credits, which is intended to represent 120 hours of work in total, which is less than a whole summer of full-time work.

Talk with the professors whose work interests you, as well as the departments offering the 396 courses you might like to take, to see if a 396 course in the summer is best for you.

You may also wish to apply for summer research awards, such as an NSERC USRA or a SURA.


My question was not answered in these FAQs

Please contact the Office for Undergraduate Research in Science.