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How to Get a Research Position: a TLDR

Contributor Sara Sritharan


On November 13, BMSA, alongside ACBC and MISA, hosted one of their most significant annual events: "How To Get A Research Position." This year, the event featured several guest speakers, both online and in person. David Manly, representing the SickKids SSURE program, was among the speakers, providing insights into the program and its application process. If you couldn't attend the event, don't worry. We've compiled a summary with valuable recommendations and a Q&A section with the speakers who attended.


Application Tips

The first step in applying for a research position is to familiarize yourself with faculty members currently involved in research, which you can easily do through the Western website, where professors affiliated with specific departments can be found. Next, research topics that align with your interests and those of the professor you wish to work with. Once you've identified potential mentors, the crucial step is reaching out to them, as effective communication greatly influences your chances of securing a position.


When sending cold emails, provide general information about yourself, articulate why you're interested in collaborating with specific faculty members, and highlight your skills, particularly soft skills, that could contribute to a research lab. Attaching concise one-page documents such as your transcript and resume is also highly recommended. While you may not receive responses from all supervisors, don't be discouraged; consider sending a follow-up email to express your continued interest. Creating a cold email template can streamline this process, making it less time-consuming.


David Manly

David Manly, a SSuRe Program Coordinator, provided insights into the SSuRe program and its application process. SSuRe offers valuable professional and career development opportunities for undergraduate students, spanning a 15-week program running from May to August. Throughout the program, participants can engage in various events, including weekly seminars featuring Hospital and RI scientists, a career night where students can meet research staff and clinician scientists, and the annual Summer Student Symposium, which provides a platform to present their summer research projects.


To apply for the SSuRe program, positions are continuously posted on the SickKids SSuRe website until January. Due to their competitiveness, early applications are vital. Occasionally, unposted positions may prefer direct applications. If you have a specific researcher in mind with whom you'd like to work under, reaching out to them directly is advisable. When applying on the website, remember to fill out a separate application form for each lab you're interested in.


To enhance your chances of selection, consider applying for funding through your university, as having a bursary can make you a more attractive candidate to Principal Investigators (PIs). Additionally, applicants can request informational interviews with PIs to gain insights into their research and express their interest in collaborative work. For further inquiries, you can contact David Manly at david.manly@sickkids.ca or reach out to the summer research coordinator.


More Research Awards and Programs Various research award opportunities are accessible to students, offering diverse avenues for academic and career development. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) annually bestows 22 scholarships, though it primarily caters to the natural sciences and engineering disciplines. For those engaging in research with a Schulich faculty member, the Dean's Undergraduate Research Opportunity (DUROP) offers 20 scholarships each year, open exclusively to BSc and BMSc undergraduate students.


The Undergraduate Summer Research Internships (USRI) program presents 20-30 Schulich Medicine and Dentistry awards annually, welcoming students from all research domains, provided their research is conducted in collaboration with a Western faculty member. Additionally, the Science Internship provides an 8-16 month placement opportunity after the third year, with full-time Science/BMSc students responsible for securing their own internship positions and enrolling in Science 3391.


For part-time, on-campus research positions during the summer, the Work Study program is an option, available to Canadian citizens or permanent residents who demonstrate genuine financial need. Beyond these mentioned programs, a wealth of additional opportunities and awards awaited eager applicants.



Q&A

During the Q&A section of the event, BMSA Communications committee members went around to interview each of the speakers in attendance. The answers below are not word-for-word what they said, but include the main ideas of their answers.

Speaker: Cindy Yu - SickKids SSuRe

Question: What was your application process for the SSuRe program like?

Answer: I sent my high school transcript and discussed previous research done by the supervisor under whom I was applying. I suggest applying for positions that study topics you are interested in; for me, it was Biology. I mentioned how I knew some lab techniques from the first year and my previous research position in Biochemistry with Schulich.

Speaker: Amir Afsharpour - Honours Thesis

Question: What are some lessons you learned from completing your honours thesis?

Answer: It definitely isn't as glamorous as it sounds, as there were many failed experiments. It is important to show initiative and not settle for what your researcher just gives you; take it further.

Speaker: Victoria Stam - University of Liverpool Summer Research Exchange

Question: How was your experience in applying for UoL different from what was described in the presentation?

Answer: I applied through Western, which nominates you. Then I applied directly to the university I wished to work at. You can apply directly to the university, but having the university you are currently at nominate gives you a leg up. During this research exchange program, I worked on bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Speaker: Jason Chu - Research Volunteer

Question: What are some lessons you learned during your placement?

Answer: I learned it was a significant time commitment, as the supervisor spends a lot of time and resources to train you. Supervisors with smaller labs are more interpersonal, as the PIs are not as busy. During the first month, there was a steep learning curve as you were specializing your knowledge in the specific topic being studied. A suggestion is to understand your supervisor’s research and completely comprehend the research that you are conducting. Don’t get a position just to perform techniques; you aren't taking anything else from it. You can work on critical thinking skills by suggesting things and by taking the initiative to help out grad students.

Speaker: Renee Guerville - Work Study

Question: What was the best part of your placement?

Answer: One benefit was the flexibility of the dry lab, and previous experience led to an easy transition. Furthermore, I got to work with kids, which I enjoyed. Since I was already working in a lab as a volunteer, my PI opened a position under work-study for me, which then allowed me to be paid.

Speaker: Steven Shen - UofT SURE Program

Question: What are some lessons you learned?

Answer: Take the initiative to solve problems independently to develop critical thinking skills. Having a good relationship with your supervisor will allow you to learn more about their career by asking them questions. They could also be a good future reference.

Speaker: Jackie Ve - Science Internship

Question: How did your schedule look during your placement?

Answer: I got to plan it myself since it was a research project. I maintained the lab and tested samples for bacteria, pH, etc. During the morning, I would unpack samples and test them. In the afternoon, I would spend time on the research project by conducting experiments and planning. Overall, I had a regular day-to-day schedule and worked around 9-5.


Conclusion

In the pursuit of research opportunities, remember that the path is filled with valuable insights and lessons. The "How To Get A Research Position" event provided essential guidance, and our guest speakers shared their experiences.


As you navigate your way to research involvement, heed the application tips, explore the SSuRe program and other awards, and keep in mind the lessons from our Q&A sessions. Research may have its challenges, but it's a journey of growth and discovery.


Embrace the opportunities that come your way, reach out to mentors, and let your curiosity drive your path in the world of research. Your journey has just begun, and the possibilities are limitless.






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