Undergraduate Research

As an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Science, you are lucky to have a wide range of research opportunities available. But where do you start? How do you get involved in a research project that interests you?


Find the Right Fit

There are many ways to find research opportunities on campus, but you need to be prepared when you start to look.

Know yourself

Find out what you are interested in and where your academic and research strengths lie. It is easier to motivate yourself to do good work if you do research in a field that you enjoy. Professors will want to know how you can contribute to their team so even though your grades are important, they need to know that you are capable of more than just that and a passion for the field is a good place to start.

Research Your Professors

Find a professor that is willing to work with you, but make sure that you do your homework before you contact them. Visit their websites in advance and find out about their interests and research to make sure that it interests you as well. You should know as much as you can about what they are doing before you have your first meeting.

Focus on your Grades

Research can be very challenging, so professors often search for outstanding students with excellent grades because they have demonstrated proficiency with their course material. The selection process for many research positions can be quite competitive, so you have to give yourself every opportunity to stand out from your peers.  If you do not have a strong GPA you will need to find other ways to sell yourself.

Be Persistent

Speak to as many people as possible. The staff in your faculty, departmental advisors, program directors, instructors, teaching assistants, and even other students may be able to make suggestions based on previous projects that they have been involved in. Don't give up.


Undergraduate Research Funding

Whether you are applying to medical school, graduate school, or you just want to get into research, lab experience is always an asset. Here are a few of the ways you can get involved on or off-campus and gain experience in the lab.

Other Research Opportunities

A list of international research opportunities available to Carleton students can be found here.


Honours Project

A student registered in a 4th year honours program may be required to undertake an independent research project during his/her last year under the direction of a faculty member. The goal of the research project is to develop research and analysis skills within the student's area of expertise. The student is responsible for selecting a supervisor to become part of his/her lab. Students are required to find a professor in the fall term of their third year to work in his/her lab for the following year.

How does an Honours Project work?

Honours research projects count toward your degree as 1.0 credit (0.5 credits in the fall term and 0.5 credits in the winter term). Students must register for both fall and winter term sections. The student is evaluated based on three components: lab work, thesis paper and presentation.

How do I choose a Research Topic?

  1. Find a topic that is relevant to your supervisor's research that interests you. You will be spending one year conducting research on this project, so it is in your best interest to find a topic that interests you enough to come to the lab and conduct the necessary experiment for the next year.

  2. Propose questions that you would like to explore to further the area of your field of study.

  3. Think about how your research could help advance your field of study.

  4. Set up an appointment to talk with your supervisor about potential projects. Faculty members will help you start narrowing down potential projects for your honours thesis.

How do I find a Supervisor?

  1. To find a supervisor that is accepting students to be part of their lab, student should visit the professor websites (Faculty of Science) and read up on various professor's research to determine the type of research that suits his/her interests. For a database of the current research occurring on campus, check here.

  2. Email the professor to ask if there is a position available within his/her lab to conduct your honours thesis project along side of the professor's on-going research.

  3. Set up an appointment with a professor at his/her availability to discuss possible topics for your research.
    Tip: Read one or two of professors most current published papers prior to the actual meeting. This will give you a better idea about possible research topics in the professor's field.


Thesis Format

General Comments

Goal: Conduct an exciting research project and write it up!

Deadlines:

  • Some departments/supervisors may impose specific deadlines for each section of your thesis – find out what these will be as early as possible.
  • Your thesis is typically due on the last day of April exams (but… start earlier than that).

Tips and general guidelines:

  • Stay in touch with your supervisor (and anyone else you’re working with, such as a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow) as much as possible!
  • Expected thesis length and format varies depending on your project, supervisor, and department – meet with your supervisor to find out what their expectations are.

Abstract

Goal: Summarize and highlight the most exciting points of each section of your thesis. Someone with a science background (not necessarily in your field) should be able to read it and get a gist of what you did, why you did it, what you found, and what it means.

Introduction

Goal: Produce a brief literature review summarizing what is currently known and pinpointing the questions that remain to be answered

  • Some supervisors have specific length requirements, and some have specific format preferences (ex: headers, sub-headers, etc…)  - ask a lot of questions to find out what is expected.
  • Make sure you include a section (towards the end) stating what questions your project aims to address and a potential hypothesis or expected results.
  • Not sure where to start? Look up past publications from your lab and read through the studies relevant to your project – this should help you out.

Methods

Goal: Summarize what you did (start to finish) with enough detail that a reader with a reasonable science background can understand and replicate it.

  • Write your methods as you do the experiment – it’s hard to remember concentrations of solutions, volumes used, specific timepoints, etc… months after you performed the experiment!
  • If you think you can enrich your methods with figures (timelines, schematics, etc…) and your supervisor likes the idea, do it!
  • Make sure to include a section overviewing your experimental design, as well as a section on statistics used!

Results

Goal: Present the exciting data that you collected (without interpreting it).

  • Statistics are often challenging for a lot of people – make sure to ask for help from your supervisor.
  • Some supervisors will want figures to be in this section, and some will expect them at the end.
  • Find our what programs you’re expected to use for your statistics and figures, and make sure you have access to them and know/learn how to use them.
  • Your results section should include some text describing your figures/results, statistical significance, etc…

Discussion

Goal: Interpret your data, comment on it, present limitations and future directions of your project.

  • Don’t fall into the trap of just restating your results! Try to synthesize and comment on your data. Is this what you expected/what is consistent with current research? Why do you think you found what you found? What are the implications of your findings?

Poster

Goal: Produce a poster of your research and present your research at Poster Day!

  • Your poster should contain similar sections to your thesis. Certain supervisors/departments will ask for an abstract and/or a summary section, but others won’t.
  • On Poster Day, be enthusiastic! A lot of different people will come chat with you, and they’ll all have different backgrounds in science. Be prepared to be flexible with your explanation!
  • If you run into a question you don’t know the answer to, be prepared to say that you don’t know, but feel free to offer a potential explanation/answer (as long as you make it clear that you are speculating)!

Deadlines:

  • Early-mid March: Sign up for poster day! You need the title of your poster, an abstract, and the name(s) of your supervisor(s).
  • Early April: Poster day!  You need to have your poster printed and be ready to present it

Tips and general guidelines:

  • Most people use Microsoft PowerPoint to make their posters – if this is the first poster you ever make, get some help with getting started.
  • Visuals, visuals, visuals! The more graphs, schematics, and good use of colour and large text, the better!
  • Find out from your supervisor and department about what is expected in terms of size, layout, and information presented
  • Aim to have a first draft of your abstract a few days before the sign-up date – your supervisor will probably want to review it a few times before you submit it.
  • Similarly, aim to have a first draft of your poster about two weeks ahead of time – your supervisor will probably want to make some edits and you need time to print it!
  • In the week before, practice giving a 5-ish minute short presentation about your poster, and prepare yourself for potential questions.

Research Email Template

This is a general outline of what you should include in your email when contacting potential future supervisors for conducting research.

Before you start writing

  • Research what the professor is doing, and understand at least the basics of it. Trust us, the professor will be able to tell if you're not prepared.
  • Read 1 or 2 of their latest papers to be able to discuss them.

Email template

Dear (choose between Dr. or Professor) _________,

First paragraph

  • 1 sentence summary of the purpose of your email (this should be first. Professors are busy, so be direct and to the point and let them know why you're emailing right off the ba).
  • Name, program, year
  • What university you attend

Second paragraph

  • Start off right away with why you're interested in THEM as a supervisor
  • Have any professors talked to you about them? Why did you choose them?
  • Have you talked to their grad students?
  • What aspects of their research are you interested?
  • Quote their papers if you can!

Third paragraph

  •  How did you become interested in this area of research?
  • Did you hear about it in lecture?
  • Did you read up on it in your own time?
  • What can you contribute to their lab? (super important!)

Fourth paragraph

  • What courses (and of particular importance, what labs) have you taken? What skills/techniques have you been exposed to?
  • If your marks for these courses are good (>A-) you should list them

Fifth paragraph

  • Closing paragraph: you want to talk to them and contact them.

Regards,

Your name

Other Tips

  • NOTE: try and talk to the professor one on one if at all possible!!! Don't rely on email correspondence alone.

  • ALSO, resist the temptation to exaggerate your accomplishments or include information that is not relevant to research. The most common mistake with personal statements and cover letters is including resume information that doesn't have anything to do with what you're applying for, or that you haven't tied in to why they're relevant for your potential supervisor to know. 


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