Research

Learn more about doing research in EPSC and ESYS.

What is undergraduate research?

Undergraduate research involves working on an independent research project supervised by a professor. Depending on your research subject, this can involve anything from lab work, field work, data analysis, programming, modelling, and more! It is usually done during the summer, but you can also do research during the academic year alongside your courses.

 

If you do an Honours program, an independent research project in your final year is built into your degree. However, it is great to get involved beforehand to get a sense of what you’re interested in, to get a head start on your Honours project, or to build experience for graduate school/the workforce.

 

There are many ways you can be compensated for your work – usually money or course credit.

Summer Research Awards

Many students do summer research with the support of an undergraduate research award. The deadline to apply for these awards vary by award and department, but typically it’s late February or early March. You must find a supervisor before applying, and your supervisor will assist you with the application. There are a few different types:

Title
Award Value
Info
BIPOC
~$7000 – 7500 (2021)
This award/internship was offered by some departments in 2021, such as atmospheric & oceanic sciences, geography, and biology. More departments may offer this award in the future. It is open to any student who identifies as black, indigenous, or a person of colour. Both Canadian citizens/PRs and international students may be eligible. Contact the advisor of the department you are interested in to see if they offer this award.
Schull Yang International Experience Award
$7000 (2021)
With this award, you must find a supervising professor at a university in a different country – preferably outside your home country if you are not from Canada. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, projects were mostly remote and an exception was made to allow Canadian supervising professors as long as the project had an international element.
BURA
$7500 (2021)
(Bieler Undergraduate Research Award) Same conditions as the USRA and SURA, but specifically for doing research with a professor in McGill’s Bieler School of Environment. However, you do not need to be an Environment student to apply. Like the SURA, it is open to both Canadian citizens/PRs and international students.
McGill SURA
$7000 (2021)
(Science Undergraduate Research Award) Like the USRA, you must be engaged in full-time research for 16 weeks of the summer. This award is eligible to all students, including international students, but must be done with a McGill science professor.
NSERC USRA
$7500 (2021)
(Undergraduate summer research award) With this award, you must be doing 16 weeks of full-time research during the summer. Only Canadian citizens and permanent residents are eligible. It can be done with a professor at McGill or at another Canadian university with NSERC funding.
Getting funding directly from your professor or supervisor 

 

This is a good option if you still want to do summer research but can’t do research for a full 16 weeks, want to be part time, or need to take more than one summer course. It’s also a way to get paid to do research during the academic year. This method of funding must be worked out individually with your supervisor, since it depends on the funding they have available.

Research for course credit

If you do independent research as a course, you can do it either during the summer or academic year. Typically, they are a 3-credit one-semester course (except for Honours projects). They’re like a regular course in the sense that it shows up on your transcript and you get a grade for it (but don’t worry, it’s rare to get a poor grade in a research course!). Like summer awards, you must confirm that a supervisor is willing to take you on before registering for the course. 

 

396 courses

Every department in Faculty of Science offers a DEPT 396 independent research course. You can also do a 396 in Arts and Sciences (BASC 396). These courses are offered in the fall, winter and summer semesters. 

 

Other research courses

Some departments offer research courses in addition to 396. This allows you to take more than one research course in the same department if you wish. Contact the department’s advisor, or your own academic advisor, for more information on these courses.

 

If you do at least 9 credits of research in at least two different departments, you get on the Dean’s multidisciplinary undergraduate research list, which shows up on your transcript.

396 courses

Every department in Faculty of Science offers a DEPT 396 independent research course. You can also do a 396 in Arts and Sciences (BASC 396). These courses are offered in the fall, winter and summer semesters.

Other Research Courses

Some departments offer research courses in addition to 396. This allows you to take more than one research course in the same department if you wish. Contact the department’s advisor, or your own academic advisor, for more information on these courses.

Tips for finding a research supervisor

  • Browse department website faculty lists, such as this one, and see if any professor’s research area piques your interest. There are also usually links to professors’ personal research websites on this page.

  • Once you’ve found some professors whose work interests you, skim some of their recent papers. Take a look at their “research group” page to see who their current grad students/post docs are and what they’re working on. Chances are, you will be working closely with grad students when you do research as an undergrad.

  • Once you’ve narrowed it down, send each professor an individual email. For summer research, try to email them in January. For courses during the semester, email them 1-2 months before the semester starts.

In the email, introduce yourself, your major, and state that you are interested in doing a research project with them during the (summer/semester) with a (research award/course). Mention specific aspects of their work that interests you and ask to arrange a meeting to discuss opportunities in their group. Attach your CV to the email – only include things on your CV that are relevant to the research position. Remember that relevant courses that you’ve taken count as skills that you can list on your CV! If your CV seems short, that’s ok! Professors do not expect you to have much experience yet. 

 

  • Expressing your interest in a research topic really goes a long way. Even if you don’t have much experience in the research area, being keen and ready to learn already makes you a good candidate. 

  • In your meeting with a professor, you can ask them for more information about applying for a research award or registering for a course. If they agree to take you on, they’ll help take care of the logistics. And voila, you are now an undergraduate researcher! ☺


When in doubt, contact an advisor. Here is a complete list of department undergraduate advisors in the Faculty of Science.