Research is the primary method by which scientists extend our collective body of knowledge and make an original contribution beyond what we have inherited from textbook authors. This summer, you, yes YOU, are invited to be involved in the lofty labs of “RESEARCH.” You will work on a research project like a researcher, join the leagues of graduate students and postdocs like a researcher, and get paid like a researcher.

The application process involves clicking some stuff, typing some stuff, and printing some transcript stuff — therefore, the process itself involves about as much energy transfer out of your system into the environment as being on Facebook or The Varsity’s Science section online. If you are smart, dedicated, capable, and passionate enough to work on the shoulders of giants rather than in a nice checkout line this summer, we challenge you to read on.

 

What is NSERC?

NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) is the government unit that oversees distribution of federal funding for science and basic research in academia. It provides support through: a) financial awards for undergraduates, graduates, and postdoctoral fellows in science and research degrees, b) funding for professors’ research projects, and c) links between universities and research-based industries.

 

What is an USRA?

An Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) is an opportunity for science students to participate in a research project in their discipline, under the supervision of a professor specializing in that research subject. It pays approximately $4,500–$5,600 in total for four months during the summer. Eligible students may apply in their second, third, and fourth year and be awarded a maximum of three USRAs throughout their undergraduate period. They must possess a cumulative B or B- standing (this varies with the department) and be Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

 

How does one apply for the USRA?

Students must fill in Part One of the NSERC Form 202 online, accessible from the NSERC’s USRA webpage.

In addition, students must also submit a hard copy of this form and an official transcript to the department administrator concerned.

 

How long does the process take?

Available USRA positions may range around 15–30 depending on the department, and selection is internal to that university department, with cGPA and relevance of completed courses to the available research positions being the primary deciding factors. Awardees may be contacted by the middle of March and typically start their positions in May.

 

What are the advantages of applying for an USRA?

Participation in a USRA project exposes students to the type of research activity expected in graduate studies or research-based industry.  It’s also a good way to get references and recognition.

 

How can one apply for USRAs at other universities?

Each NSERC-supported university has a quota of USRAs, with smaller universities having fewer awards. Students can apply for USRA positions at other universities, and the hard-copy requirement may be waived for an equivalent online submission. In addition, the host university may impose additional requirements on external applicants. This varies with the department and university, and interested U of T students are invited to look at their specific university and supervisor’s website for further information. However, students that have accepted a USRA award at one institution are prohibited from holding another one at a different institution.

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