Connecting undergrads with research opportunities at U of T and beyond
“You learn skills you simply can’t get from reading a textbook,” says third-year student Swara Shah
Garland Xie is part of a team of researchers testing the performance of green roofs.
Doing research in Professor Marc Cadotte’s lab, he’s looking at how plant diversity can trap more storm water while also helping to cool a building making it more energy efficient.
The U of T Scarborough undergraduate student became interested in doing hands-on research after a volunteer trip to Mexico where he studied marine turtles. The experience made an impression, so much so that as soon as he got home he started looking for research opportunities on campus.
“I think more than anything I’ve really been able to develop my critical thinking skills through the research projects I’ve been involved with,” says Xie, who’s in his fourth year studying ecology.
His advice to students considering research is pretty straight forward. “Just go for it,” he says, “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and explore new techniques and tools involved in doing research. The experience has been amazing.”
A new tool developed at U of T Scarborough is helping undergrads discover research opportunities available to them on campus and beyond. Launched on Feb. 24, the new Research Catalogue features research opportunities with partner institutions and faculty members all in one online location for students.
“We have many talented undergraduate students doing amazing research on campus already and this tool will serve as a pathway for even more students interested in pursuing their academic and professional goals,” says Professor Bernie Kraatz, UTSC’s vice-principal of research.
Developed by UTSC’s Office of the Vice-Principal Research and Academic Advising & Career Centre (AA&CC), the catalogue is available to students on the Career Learning Network (CLN), an online hub that helps students manage their academic and career goals.
“Having a research catalogue available through CLN is an ideal fit because it allows undergraduates interested in doing research the ability to start planning ahead by learning about research opportunities at UTSC,” says AA&CC Director Jennifer Ankrett.
The faculty profiles not only introduce students to various opportunities on campus, they also provide helpful advice to those interested in doing research with a particular faculty member or in a specific academic field. Some of the advice includes how best to connect with faculty members about their potential opportunities, the skills and attributes faculty are looking for in successful student researchers, as well as what skills students can hope to develop.
Students can also look up research opportunities with universities abroad and with external organizations including health networks and other major research centres.
“I had many highly productive undergraduate students in my research team who collaborated with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows,” Kraatz says. “In some cases the discoveries made were exciting and led to peer-reviewed publications.”
The tool helps faculty by broadening awareness about their research opportunities, while also offering valuable advice and setting expectations for students who may want to do research with them. Professor Clare Hasenkampf of biology, whose main research focuses on the structure and function of chromosomes in plants, has offered paid work, course credit and volunteer opportunities to undergraduate students in the past and appreciates the convenience of having the catalogue within the CLN.
"It’s great to have one site where students can go for curricular and co-curricular research experience as well as for paid work in research laboratories," says Hasenkampf, who is also director of UTSC’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.
The catalogue also has the added benefit that faculty are already using the CLN to post work study and other research opportunities on and off campus in one highly visible location for students. There are already nearly 200 faculty and institutional profiles, with new ones being added daily, notes Ankrett.
“We wanted to create a hub that connects students to the amazing research talent on campus and showcases the many opportunities available to them,” says Ankrett. “The Research Catalogue is a great starting place for students to pursue their research aspirations.”
Swara Shah is doing research on stingray feeding performance as part of Professor Nathan Lovejoy’s lab at U of T Scarborough.
The third-year biology student is helping dissect the jaw muscles of stingrays to develop models on how much force they generate when they bite.
“I never anticipated doing this type of research,” she says.
Shah says she was initially interested in doing research because she wanted to have some experience before applying to medical school, but the experience, especially a recent trip to a scientific conference, has really opened her eyes about the different opportunities that exist.
“There are endless opportunities to do research in a variety of fields,” she says. “You learn skills you simply can’t get from reading a textbook.”