|USRA provides rare glimpse into research life|
Anthropology and History student Cadell Last is heading to Cameroon this summer to study the nesting construction of chimpanzees – a rare fieldwork opportunity for an undergraduate.
Last is one of 123 students receiving an Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) this year. Winners of the USRA spend 15 weeks focused on graduate-style study – an experience that may help them decide whether to continue their education or move in a new direction.
“The USRA is providing my first hands-on research opportunity. I’ve been able to develop my own idea and I’ll have a chance to work as an independent academic,” he said.
Last spent time in Cameroon as a volunteer with the non-profit Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) in 2010. He’s excited by the prospect of returning to collect data in support of clear research objectives – objectives he didn’t have last year. Last is working with Tracy Prowse, assistant professor in Anthropology, and will enter a master’s program in primatology at the University of Toronto in September.
Learning beyond the classroom
Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies Allison Sekuler said that the USRA provides something unique for undergraduate students. The hands-on component of research is unlike classroom learning.
“(Research) is not quite as easy as it may seem when you’re learning about it in a classroom,” Sekuler told the group.
Michelle Reid, Arts & Science Program and Environmental Sciences, had her first taste of fieldwork last summer as a USRA recipient.
“I had an amazing time last year. The USRA experience really broadened my horizons and gave me a rare opportunity to get hands-on experience in a lab and in the field,” Reid said.
As a second-time recipient, she’ll be collecting and analyzing water samples from Algonquin Provincial Park for her project. Reid is working with Professor Lesley Warren in the School of Geography and Earth Sciences, examining the biochemistry of oil sands composite tailings.
Reid said that the opportunity to network with both government and private sector researchers and representatives has also been valuable. As she moves towards decisions about graduate education, these connections have given her a glimpse of challenges and opportunities in water research.
“The work I do may help solve problems,” she said.
Nurturing faculty-student relationships
More than 80 award recipients and their supervisors attended an afternoon reception at the University Club last week, to celebrate their achievements.
McMaster Provost Ilene Busch-Vishniac congratulated the group of successful students, and commended the 117 participating supervisors for the time and effort they contribute towards such a rich learning experience.
The aim of the USRA program is to nurture research partnerships between faculty and students, as well as provide more of a graduate-level learning experience.
Four undergraduate students from India were welcomed at the reception, as part of the Mitacs Globalink program. This research program connects international students with top researchers at Canadian universities. Globalink introduces Canada as a potential graduate study destination to top undergraduate students from around the world.
On November 9, 2011, the annual USRA Poster Session will be held in CIBC Hall. The session will highlight all those discoveries from this summer’s research.
The Undergraduate Student Research Awards are sponsored by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; Office of the Vice-President Research and International Affairs; the faculties of Social Sciences, Humanities and Business; the Arts & Science program; and the School of Graduate Studies.