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What to Expect from Independent Research or a Research Course

Updated: Mar 27, 2022

My name is Mackenzie and I am a fourth year ecology student and BSA academic coordinator. As a student at the University of Calgary I have been able to partake in many opportunities to take part in research. These opportunities include research courses for credit, independent research projects, or summer programs. I have been in courses such as BIOL 313 and UNIV 401 where we had to work on a project as a graded component of the course. I was a recipient of a PURE award where I worked on an independent project for 16 weeks over the summer. As well, I am currently working on my ECOL 530 project. With that being said, I have a lot of experience with research projects. Each of these projects had a similar structure. Start by choosing a topic, design a study, gather results and then dissertate your findings.

Where do you start with undergraduate research?

You need to start by figuring out what interests you. Do you have any idea what research area you want to dive deeper into? Do you know any professors with whom you would like to work? You should start by creating a shortlist of possible Primary Investigators (PIs). Do this by looking at their past research. Before you contact a PI you should work on a CV.This should include important information about you (past research experience, relevant courses, skills, interests, etc.). Also, you should write a letter of intent; this should be specific to the PI you will send it to. Spend a good amount of time on these two tasks. Make sure they are honest to you and of good quality. Your PIs will most likely receive several students looking to work with them; you want to stand out. Once you have a PI who has agreed to work with you you will start to determine what your project will look like.

From my experience, projects can look very different. You will start by creating a proposal. This is a very important first step as it sets out your plan for the entire project. You then will need to apply either to an award to work during the summer or to a research course (507, 528, 530).

What has my research looked like?

My PURE award and ECOL 530 course are intertwined as a project. I spent my summer dredging through stormwater ponds collecting macroinvertebrates. I then spent my fall semester working in the lab cleaning and sorting my samples. These projects also require you to spend an amount of time writing and doing primary research.

The bottom line

Research is a large time commitment. You have to be up to the challenge or you can fall behind. Everyone's experience is different; you need to have a lot of drive and the ability to work on a schedule. My number one piece of advice is to find something you are passionate about and work from there.

Helpful Links

Information on research areas here.

Research opportunities here.

An extensive list of instructors here (note: not all instructors participate in research).

Writing an effective CV here.

More information on University of Calgary research courses here.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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