The NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) is a financial award that allows outstanding undergraduate students to work with a faculty member in an academic research environment for a semester.

USRA recipients take part in a research project in an area of Computer Science, under the direction and guidance of a supervisor. The type of work will vary depending on the supervisor, the project, and the student's background. 

If you are interested in exploring the research side of academic life or if your goal is graduate studies in a field related to Computer Science, the experience of an NSERC USRA could be very helpful.

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Yizhou Zhang and research assistants

Meet Eric, Jianlin, and Yizhou

In Winter 2024, Eric did a research co-op with Professor Yizhou Zhang and graduate student Jianlin Li on “Compiling Probabilistic Programs for Variable Elimination with Information Flow”. Eric was responsible for implementing a probabilistic programming language (PPL) and conducting case studies/experiments to evaluate its effectiveness. Eric ultimately contributed to the documentation and dissemination of research findings, including the writing of a research paper and open-sourcing of code.

“What I love about research is the ability to dive deeply into a niche (and perhaps novel) field of study. I knew nothing of probabilistic programming prior to my work term, but a few months later I had implemented part of a compiler for a PPL and benchmarked it on a dozen inference problems. 

Another aspect I appreciated was the level of independence afforded to me. Despite needing to learn a lot about programming languages—especially in the beginning—to be able to contribute to the project, I was given the time and space necessary to become familiar with the domain. At times my autonomy led to digressions and tangents, but I could always rely on Jianlin and Yizhou to pull me out of the holes I dug for myself.

I wholeheartedly recommend pursuing a research term to interested students. It’s a unique opportunity to collaborate with experts in the field, and any intrigue you have for the subject your supervisors will reciprocate twofold. If you’re lucky, you might get your name on a paper! If you’re really lucky, you’ll discover that research is your calling.” Eric Wang, BCS Candidate


Application deadlines

Competitions for NSERC USRA's are held three times each year. The application process is on a tight schedule, and we cannot accommodate late applications. Deadlines for computer science research are as follows:

Term Deadline
Spring 2024 Closed.
Fall 2024* Tuesday, May 7, 2024. There is no secondary deadline.
Winter 2025 TBD (early September)

Students interested in full-time research in Fall 2024 should consider applying for the MURA instead. 

*Fall 2024, applications for Black and Indigenous students will be considered on an individual basis. Please contact Daniel Huab if you have questions.

Length of project

  • Full-time (35 hours per week) for 16 consecutive weeks (80 working days).
  • Can be counted as a co-op work term but you do not need to be a co-op student to be eligible for this award.

A student is not allowed to be taking courses full-time or working on another project/job while holding the USRA as it is considered a full-time job.

Compensation

NSERC USRA recipients will receive a minimum of $9,640 / term:

  • The value of the NSERC USRA: $6,000.
  • The supervisor’s contribution: $3,640 (minimum).

The amount does not include benefits or vacation pay.

Additional Funding Sources

Students/supervisors may supplement their NSERC USRA with the Undergraduate Research Fellowship (URF) valued at $7,500.

Students admitted with the President’s Scholarship of Distinction can claim the President’s Research Award ($1,500) to supplement the supervisor's contribution.

Interdisciplinary Criteria

As of Spring 2024, there are additional awards available for interdisciplinary research projects. To be considered for UW’s USRA interdisciplinary quota, the proposed research must meet one of the following definitions and clearly identify the different disciplines involved:

  • Research that involves the interaction among two or more different disciplines and occurs at the interface between disciplines. This may range from the sharing of ideas to the full integration of concepts, methodology, procedures, theory, terminology, data, organization of research and training.
  • Research that draws on knowledge from different disciplines but stays within the boundary of one primary field.
  • Research intended to impart knowledge about, and train a student in, a discipline that is different from the student's own discipline.

This definition aligns with NSERC’s definition of interdisciplinary.

Eligibility

Students cannot apply for the USRA without a supervisor.

Student eligibility

  • Must have completed one full year of school before starting the USRA (UW students must have an academic term of 2A at the minimum).
  • Must have at cumulative average (CAV) >= 80.*
  • Must be a Canadian citizen of Permanent Resident of Canada status.**
  • Cannot have started a graduate degree or be involved in full-time research and development in natural sciences or engineering.
  • Cannot hold more than one USRA per NSERC fiscal year (April 1 - March 31).
  • Cannot hold more than three USRAs during undergraduate degree.
  • Cannot hold both USRA and MURA in the same term.

*If CAV is below 80, please contact Daniel Huab for guidance.

**International students who meet all other eligibility criteria may be interested in the MURA.

Special note for Black and Indigenous students:

As noted on the NSERC USRA webpage, there is currently a special program in place to support students who self-identify as Black or Indigenous who are guaranteed an award provided they meet eligibility requirements.

Supervisor eligibility

Supervisors must meet one of the following criteria:

  • As of Spring 2024, a faculty member authorized by the University to supervise students is considered eligible to supervise a USRA student. Holding an active tri-agency research grant is no longer required.
  • Potential supervisors must have access to funds to provide the minimum compensation for the term.

For more information, see Undergraduate Student Research Award.

How to apply

After finding an eligible supervisor that has agreed to work with you and deciding on a research project that clearly defines your role and responsibilities with the supervisor, the following steps must be completed on the NSERC online system

  1.  Complete and submit Form 202 - Part I.
    1. If you are a UW student, an unofficial transcript is acceptable.
    2. Non-UW students must upload an official transcript (with a legend attached, if applicable)
  2. Send your reference number to your supervisor (the supervisor will use the student’s reference number to create and link form 202 Part II).
  3. Ensure that your supervisor completes the online application (Form 202 - Part II).
  4. Email Daniel Huab when Form 202 (Part I and II) is completed by the student and supervisor.