Undergraduate Research Assistantship Program

The Spring Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) Program is intended to provide valuable, educational research experience for undergraduate students during the term. Applications are accepted in the first week of October each year, for the following Spring term.

The portal for applications for Spring 2024 is closed.

The program provides: 

Alternatively, opportunities to work with faculty on an individual basis in the Fall and Winter terms are posted to the URA Job Board.

There are numerous benefits for students who become involved in research during their undergraduate career. The experience allows undergraduate students to develop a better understanding of academic publishing, learn how to balance both collaborative and individual work, establish an area of interest and to start their careers as researchers.

While participating in the URA program, many students discover their passion for research. Many decide to pursue this passion through graduate studies and/or finding employment in the public sector related to their research skills.

URA Experiences

Below are testimonials from recent URA participants, giving you an inside view on their experiences with the program and the research they explored.

Hao Sun (Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014)

I participated in the URA program in the summers of 2012 and 2014 under the supervision of Prof Henry Wolkowicz and the summer of 2013 under the supervision of Prof. Henry Wolkowicz and Prof Stephen Vavasis. I got the opportunity to do fascinating research on the graph partitioning problem and we were able to get some interesting results. I had a wonderful experience working with Henry and Stephen, I learned a lot from our discussions and meetings, in terms of how to gain intuition, how the problem fits into the larger framework, and on research methodology. We had weekly meetings for all students in the URA program. We got to hear lectures by C&O professors on a broad variety of topics. Moreover, all students gave presentations of their research at the end of the summer, which was a nice opportunity to learn how to give a research talk, and see what other students were working on. To sum up, it was a fantastic experience as we had direct mentoring from the faculty and great projects.

Through the URA program, I discovered my love of combinatorics and mathematical research. There are not a lot of other research opportunities for undergraduate students and I feel that the URA program provides a fantastic opportunity for undergrads to explore their research interests. I got to better understand the world of research, learned a variety of topics in Combinatorics and Optimization and had a better sense of my research interests when applying to graduate school.

Haripriya Pullyssary (Spring 2019, Spring 2020)

I had the privilege of being in the URA program in Spring 2019 and Spring 2020. In Spring 2019, I worked on a project in Integer Programming (proving that the aggregation closure for covering integer programs is polyhedral) with Dr. Laurent Poirrier and Dr. Kanstanstin Pashkovich. In my second URA term (Summer 2020), I worked under the supervision of Dr. Jochen Koenemann on the weighted multicommodity flows over time problem (joint work with Madison Van Dyk).

Through my URA terms, I had the opportunity to explore some very fascinating topics and learned an incredible amount from my supervisors. I was also very fortunate to have learned some lessons of a different nature. Most importantly, I got a glimpse as to how one approaches research by watching how my supervisors worked on these problems and what they tried when our progress was stalled.

C&O’s URA program was my first introduction to research. Participating in this program was perhaps one of my most memorable experiences as an undergraduate student, and I would highly recommend it to any student who is interested in research.

Jingye Xu (Winter 2020, Winter 2021)

I was very lucky to do URA with professor Levent Tuncel in my second coop term. Our projection was about finding a closed-form formula of projection onto homogeneous cones. After four-month hard working, even if we characterized lots of geometry properties of low dimensional homogeneous cones, we still failed to find such formula. However, I benefited a lot from this research journey. We read lots of related papers, conducted some numeric experimental for intuitions and had weekly meeting to share our progress. Not only I gained lots of amazing optimization knowledge but also learned a lot from how Levent thought about mathematical problems from his perspective.

After this wonderful research term, I was really impressed with the beauty and the modelling power of optimization I decided to have C&O as my second major and to pursue PhD in operation research. Also, when I was working as an algorithm researcher in Huawei, I also solved an unsupervised machine learning problem and published a patent via semi-definite optimization.

Overall, this URA is a turning point of my undergraduate years. Instead of seeking a Cali software engineer position like other computer science students, I started my research journey in optimization and may devote my life on it.

Madison Van Dyk (Fall 2018, Winter 2018, Spring 2019)

During my URA placements I was able to gain exposure to academic research and determine whether or not I wanted to pursue a Masters degree in mathematics. Each term I focused on my own research problem and met with my supervisor regularly to discuss ideas. I enjoyed the ability to participate in seminars and attend presentations on other areas of research. Also, through my participation in the program I was able to improve my presentation skills – which can be difficult in a regular co-op placement. In the URA program, undergrad students often interact with many of the graduate students and that helped me learn about their experiences in grad school. I was also fortunate to have had some opportunities to travel to academic conferences and meet researchers from other institutions.

Mariia Sobchuk (Spring 2017, Spring 2018)

If you are interested in trying research in this area, I would really recommend pursuing the URA program at the department of Combinatorics and Optimization at University of Waterloo. After my 3B term, I got fortunate to work in the area of algebraic graph theory and to study continuous quantum walks under the supervision of Prof. Chris Godsil and Krystal Guo. My supervisors created a wonderful learning environment for the URAs and introduced state of the art problems fit for our level of background. We got familiar with the professional software, Sage, to study the behaviour of some graph parameter, built conjectures based on the data and even got lucky proving some of them. It was a new and exciting experience to meet the problem, uncover some results, and later get them published in a joint paper.

My second URA term research on discrete quantum walks with Prof. Chris Godsil was less software based. Closely collaborating with my supervisor and now matriculated PhD student, Harmony Zhang, we were able to understand the general class of graphs arising in her algorithm.

URA is a peek into the life of academia with its discussions, seminars, conferences happening at the time, research, and discoveries with the reliable support of the wonderful faculty and fellow students. In general, the URA experience confirmed my interest in research and was the first step towards graduate school.

To learn more about past URA research publications.


During the 16-week assistantship, a faculty member from the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization will mentor a student. The placement of a student with a specific faculty member is aligned with their research interests and will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Department Chair. To recognize the accomplishment of each student of the URA cohort, students will present their work at a seminar at the close of the program.


Qualified URA applications must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada or International students on study permits.

In addition, applicants must:

  • Be a student enrolled in either a full-time regular or co-op Bachelor of Mathematics program at a university or college. 
  • Eligible to work in Canada. 
  • Completed at least a 2B academic term. 
  • Be in good academic standing, holding a 80% GPA or higher. 

Student Stipend

As part of the URA program, research assistants will receive:

  • $12,000 stipend for program participation. 
  • Potential for travel to and from academic conferences. 

How to Apply

The Spring Program requires a formal on-line application (applications open in the Fall). Non-UW students are encouraged to apply. Fall or Winter applications are more informal, process can be found on the URA FAQs page.

Applications should include:

  • One collated .PDF file including: a cover letter detailing specific aims/objectives and a CV/resume with two references (including contact info). 
  • A copy of an unofficial transcript
  • Deadline to apply is December 1, 2023
Applications will be reviewed based on the merit of the qualifications of the applicant

Have further questions about an Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship?

View our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section.

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