How to get involved in research

Here are some strategies to help you find a research opportunity. Although some centrally-coordinated programs and resources are listed below, you will also benefit greatly by talking to professors, advisors, and administrative staff in your area of interest; they may know of opportunities specific to your field.

Talk to professors

  • To find them, start at www.mcgill.ca/science/contact/departments, choose the department(s) that interest you, then browse the staff or faculty listings.
    • You can use this same approach to find researchers in other faculties at McGill (Medicine, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, Arts, Engineering, etc.), and researchers at external institutions (hospitals, research institutions, other universities, etc.)
  • Approach faculty with respect. Before you approach professors, prepare yourself:
    • Read about their research on their websites. You might scan the abstracts from their recent publications. You can ask a librarian for help finding these.
    • Contact professors during their office hours or via email (but do not send a general email to a whole list of professors).
    • When you introduce yourself, discuss your interests, qualifications (relevant coursework, past experience), and expectations. Have your résumé and transcripts ready.
    • Your letter (or conversation) should demonstrate familiarity with the professor's research area, and express why you want to be a part of this professor's research. Professors typically like to work with undergraduates, but they cannot say yes to everyone who asks; make it easy for them to choose you.
    • You may want to interview other students who have worked with the professor.
  • When and where possible, consider talking with professors instead of emailing.
    • Professors get lots of email. It is easy to overlook an email message.
    • You can go deeper in a face-to-face conversation, and can sometimes turn a "no" into a more useful answer.
    • If a professor says his or her lab is full, if you are talking rather than emailing, you might follow up with questions like:
      • When would be a good time to come back to ask again?
      • What do you look for?
      • Are there particular skills I should cultivate or courses I should take first?

Talk with other people in departments

  • Ask which professors take students, and what are their labs or groups like.
  • You can talk with any or all of the following:
    • Teaching assistants;
    • Lab instructors;
    • Departmental staff, academic or non-academic: advisors, secretaries, program directors, etc.;
    • Professors (if professors don't have room in their labs, you can ask if they can suggest any colleagues to you);
    • Peers - students you know who have already participated in undergraduate research;
    • Peers - undergraduate student societies, whether departmental or faculty-wide.

Come to Soup and Science

  • Soup and Science: Meet cool profs from your department and from other departments, and find out about their research.
  • Discover how to participate and learn about opportunities outside your own home departments.
  • Come for the soup, stay for the science. Free lunch!
  • Soup and Science is held at the start of each Fall and Winter term.

Attend or participate in Science's Undergraduate Research Conference

  • The Undergraduate Research Conference is held in September or October of each year.
  • Come look at what other McGill students have done, and discover what you can do.
  • Ask your department to nominate you if you want to present a poster next October.
  • The conference also includes a keynote address by a speaker of note - such as Nobel laureate Leon M. Lederman in 2005, Nobel laureate Rudolph Marcus in 2006, environment scholar Dr. Jonathan Foley in 2007, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker in 2008, neuroscientist Brenda Milner in 2009, and Nobel laureate Jack Szostak in 2010.

Explore the "Research opportunities for Science students" website

Apply for a summer research award

  • McGill Science students have several options for summer research, including the following competitions:
    • NSERC USRA: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Student Research Awards are for Canadian citizens or permanent residents, to perform research under the supervision of an NSERC grant-holding researcher. McGill students may also apply to hold an NSERC USRA at another university.
    • SURA: Science Undergraduate Research Awards are for both Canadian and international McGill students registered in a science undergraduate program. SURA recipients will engage in 16 weeks of full-time research and development activity under the supervision of a McGill Faculty of Science professor holding grant funding (CRC, NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC, or FRSQ - not only NSERC, as for the NSERC USRA programme).
  • Many other opportunities are listed on the Faculty of Science's Undergraduate Research website.
  • It is worth repeating: talk to professors. They may know about other awards or funding available to you.

Get funding through the Work-Study program

  • The Work Study program subsidizes the cost of hiring students, including for research positions.
  • Applicants must demonstrate financial need for the given academic year and apply to Work Study on Minerva (Financial Aid Menu).
  • Some professors do not know about this opportunity. If you are eligible, tell the professor when you are talking with her/him.

Register for a research-oriented course

  • '396' research project courses
    • '396' courses are undergraduate research courses offered across the Faculty of Science.
    • These are 3-credit electives which you can take within or outside your department.
    • These are not a majors/honours project nor a full-time project.
    • Apply for one of the projects posted on the website, or create your own research project with a McGill professor!
  • Honours/majors projects
    • Usually in your final year (U3) and available in most departments
    • Inquire at your department for more details.
  • Here is a listing of research courses, including '396' courses, majors/honours projects, and other research courses.

Participate in field studies and study abroad opportunities

  • Short courses or semester-long programs with a research focus or component.
  • These are McGill courses, but delivered off-site:
    • Panama Field Study Semester (winter)
    • Africa Field Study Semester (winter)
    • Barbados Field Study Semester (fall)
    • Barbados Interdisciplinary Tropical Studies, BITS (summer)
    • Shorter field courses in Biology, Geography, Earth & Planetary Sciences...
  • For a master listing, university-wide, see the Field Studies section of the calendar (aka "Programs, Courses and University Regulations").
  • Or, here are links to the Field Study Semester Programs. It also includes links to the Field Stations, but for the shorter field courses, use the previous link to the calendar.

Take part in an internship

  • The Science Internship Program offers career-related, professionally supervised, paid work terms. Some of these are research-related.
  • Test your career goals and gain confidence and experience!
  • Return to your studies more focused, with a sense of where your academic careers might lead
  • The Internship Year in Science (IYS) program is for 8, 12, or 16 months.
  • The Industrial Practicum (IP) is for a shorter period of 4 months, usually in the summer.
  • International students are eligible; see the website for more details.

Get acquainted with your Library!

The McGill Library provides essential services, programs and resources to support the research of McGill students and faculty. These include:

Check out Career Planning Services (CaPS) for useful skills

  • Learn how to network, write your C.V. and cover letter, interview and more...
  • ...everything that matters when you apply for research positions and for work in the traditional job market.
  • Visit CaPS in the Brown Student Services Building or visit the CaPS website.

Brush up your communication skills

  • The scientific process is only finished when a results have been written clearly, and communicated to and understood by others.
  • Check out our Research and communication page for resources to help undergraduate students improve their science communication skills.

Get involved in the McGill Science Undergraduate Research Journal

  • Participate in MSURJ, McGill's premier undergraduate science journal!
  • Contribute an article (usual deadline: January).
  • Join the editorial board (usual deadline: October).
  • Watch their website for details of the next edition's launch in March/April.
  • Read current and previous issues online.
  • Check out their website for other events, such as lectures on writing, editing, and publishing in Science.

Go to departmental talks

  • Attend talks, seminars, colloquia organized by McGill departments and faculties.
  • At specialist talks, it's okay if you don't understand that much of the technical stuff (you won't be the only one!). You'll get a sense of what scientists do, what the questions are, and what research is about - plus it's an opportunity to meet people in your department.
  • There are also many accessible outreach events - such as the Beatty Lectures, the Cutting Edge series, Freaky Fridays, the Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium Series, Mini-Science, etc. - which are intended to bring research to you and the wider public.

Think outside the box

  • Your McGill degree offers you excellent preparation for work in your field of study...
  • ...but there are often opportunities outside your own department. Don't overlook possibilities for cross-disciplinary work where your skills overlap with another unit on campus.