Student research opportunities

students observing files

There are students at all levels of study (undergraduate, masters or doctoral, and post-doctoral) participating in research in the lab. The lab prides itself in being an interesting, challenging and rewarding place for students to work and learn. It is also a place where students can gain mentoring from Prof. O'Neill, visiting postdoctoral researchers, and senior students. We also enjoy having fun and love celebrating little successes along the way - usually in the form of cake and chocolate! (Any baking skills are hugely admired and appreciated!). 

Postdoctoral students and Academic visitors

Post-doctoral students and academics wishing to study at, or visit, the lab should contact Prof. O'Neill directly about visiting. For more information about post-doctoral fellows at the University of Waterloo, visit our post-doctoral affairs page.

Graduate students (PhD and MASc)

Each year, I aim to admit at least one new PhD level graduate student and one MASc level graduate student. Applicants should be aware that research at the lab currently focuses on early pragmatic language acquisition as assessed by the Language Use Inventory (LUI) and exploring in more detail cross-sectional and longitudinal aspects of development from large existing data sets. For such work, students with knowledge of (or interest in learning) sophisticated statistical techniques (e.g, growth modelling, cluster analysis) would be a great fit. Other ongoing projects focus on aspects of parent-child talk interactions at 24 months and their relation to pragmatic growth from age 24 to 36 months. For such research, at the PhD level especially, they should also be students who have experience with, and enjoy, working with transcript data and transcribing data. Experience with the Child Language Data Exchange System (CHILDES) and Computerized Language Analysis (CLAN) coding/analysis system is an advantage. Other types of research studies are possible if they relate to early pragmatic language development and have a more applied, clinical or naturalistic, everyday-interaction focus. Research related to community outreach in related areas is also possible. This can be discussed with Daniela O'Neill on a case-by-case basis. However, students should be aware that more cognitive-style single-child studies are not the focus anymore at the lab in favour of studies that examine children's language in context with other people and in more naturalistic settings. Given significant constraints on my time, students should be aware that I am unlikely to offer to serve as a MASc of PhD advisor for projects outside my main current research areas of interest. 

Interested graduate applicants can find more general information about graduate studies in our developmental area and in the Department at the following sites:

Undergraduate students (Honours thesis, RAs)

Undergraduates are an integral part of the lab. There are many ways to participate in the lab, but usually at minimum you must have eight to ten hours a week to devote to the research (except during the weeks around midterms and final exams). Most undergraduates begin by volunteering for a term, beginning in their second or third year. From that experience, some undergraduates will graduate to paid positions or to pursuing an independent or thesis project.

I have many students who ask me to supervise their thesis or independent projects and I can usually only accept one per year and so competition is stiff. I do usually give priority to students who have already worked in the lab.

If you are thinking about possibly going to graduate school in psychology, pursuing a research career in speech-language pathology, medicine, or teaching, it is never too early to build up your research experience. The more research experience you can gain while you are undergraduate, the stronger your graduate applications will be and the clearer your view will be as to what kind of research you are really interested in. (Note: if you are thinking of continuing on to study Speech-Language Pathology at a university in Canada you may find the following site from Speech-Language and Audiology Canada of interest with more detailed information about programs in Canada.)

If you think you might be interested in participating as a research assistant in the lab, please email the following three pieces of information to me: (

  • a cover letter - tell me why you'd like to take on an research assistant position.
  • an up-to-date resume.
  • a copy of your transcript - a non-official copy by email is fine.

I will then contact you for an appointment if we have a position currently available. Even if I have no positions currently available, I will keep your name on file for when positions open up. 

A note about reference letters for students

Every year, I get requests for numerous reference letters. With many schools having different procedures, online forms etc. this can be a very time-consuming process for me. Therefore, to make things go as quickly and as smoothly as possible, students wishing a letter of reference(s) from me must provide the following:

  1. At least one months notice! Email me to find out if it will be possible for me to write you a letter of reference.
  2. If I agree, then provide me all the following materials as soon as possible. Please do not send me an email with all these as attachments. With many students to write letters for, this becomes very cumbersome. Please print out a hardcopy of items one to five and provide them to me in my mailbox on the third floor of the department.
    1. A cover sheet stating clearly all the letters you need and WHEN you need them by. Also indicate if the letter needs to be done online and/or hardcopies to you or to someone else. You do not need to stamp envelopes. I can assume mailing costs through the department.
    2. An up-to-date resume
    3. A copy of your transcript. This does not need to be an official copy.
    4. If you have a statement of research interests, study interests etc. that might be helpful to me in writing your letter, include it. This is optional, however.
    5. A summary of your work/studies with me. If you have worked in my lab, or taken courses with me, please indicated the dates/terms you did so. If you worked in the lab, remind me of the projects you took part in. If you took a course with me, please remind me of your grade. With many students, it saves a huge amount of time for me to have to look up all these dates, outcomes etc. And in some cases, it is impossible, if I don't have access to the grade files easily anymore. You can include anything here you would like to remind me of that you'd like me to mention in a letter.
    6. If there are websites I need to go to, or online forms to fill out, then do email this information to me and indicate these in your cover sheet.
    7. If you don't need a letter of reference, but only need to use my name as a potential reference for the institution to contact, then please just email me to inquire about this.