Written by Naomi (she/her), student
Are you interested in gaining hands-on experience in your field of interest? Explore all the research opportunities Waterloo has for undergraduate students and discover your passion beyond the classroom.
Research opportunities for undergraduate students
At Waterloo, it’s not just about the content you learn, it’s also about the experience you gain. Research opportunities give you the chance to further your understanding of class material and provide you with valuable experience in something that interests you. I’m a second year Arts student and part-time research assistant for Black and Free, a project conducted by an associate professor in the Department of Communications Arts at Waterloo. The project focuses on Black expressive culture in Ontario, and part of my role includes researching Black art and design, while working closely with other Waterloo students.
There are a lot of perks that come with participating in undergraduate research besides just enjoying the work you do — the skills you obtain can help you establish an area of interest in your field, figure out what you want to pursue in the future, build connections, and even kickstart your own career as a researcher.
Faculty of Arts
Speaking of the arts, there are many more research opportunities available for Arts students! The broad range of programs within the arts makes for incredibly diverse faculty-lead research projects, and there’s a number of research centres affiliated with the arts that have ongoing projects. Whether it’s in Classical Studies, Philosophy, or Psychology, students are constantly discovering research opportunities.
Jasmine (she/her), a fourth-year Psychology student and research assistant in the Department of Psychology’s Relationship Lab, says, “Seeing as how research is such a vital component of psychology, I wanted to see firsthand if it was something I could see myself pursuing upon completing my degree”. In her role, Jasmine helps with qualitative data coding alongside a graduate student, and they work together to make formal analyses on the data and research question at hand, as well as looking at relevant literature. “As someone who was very new to both coding and research, I learned a lot and gained experience in that aspect”, says Jasmine.
Faculty of Health
If you want to participate in research projects under the supervision of Faculty of Health researchers, The Hallman Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Health and Promotion provides those opportunities. Researchers help you become familiar with the health promotion-related research occurring within the Faculty of Health, research centres, and institutes.
Faculty of Science
For research experience with the Faculty of Science, you can work in a university laboratory either through volunteering with a professor, work-study programs, or co-op research certificates. These research opportunities allow you to gain experience in laboratory techniques, and procedures, including tasks such as preparing samples, setting up experiments, and general lab maintenance, all of which set you up to succeed in your future researching career!
Research assistant and second-year Biochemistry student, Teodora, says that “A lot of my research experience so far has been learning how to use different visualization and modelling software that are commonly used in bioinformatics, and editing files for others to use when modelling proteins. The team has been really supportive with helping me learn and providing me the resources to grow.”
Beyond the lab
Research opportunities for science aren’t confined to lab environments — projects can also focus on various areas from nanotechnology, to quantum computing, to cancer growth. There are even Faculty of Science researchers that are members of the Games Institute, which advances the study of games, gamification, interactive technologies, and immersive environments. This work expands beyond traditional academic norms in a broad, inclusive approach as an unconventional research centre, and focuses on areas like interactive media and its connection to health, art, culture, and human behaviour.
Another research field called Cryptography, Security, and Privacy, which is squarely housed in The Cheriton School of Computer Science and the Faculty of Mathematics, studies a wide variety of topics, from designing cryptographic protocols to the evaluation of their effectiveness and usability in deployed systems. The great thing about research within the Faculty of Science is how diverse the options can be, so make sure you check out all their opportunities!
How to find undergraduate research opportunities
A common way of getting research experience during your undergraduate career is through volunteering with a professor. You can start by reviewing the personal websites of faculty to see which area of research interests you the most before contacting a prospective supervisor.
My Biochemistry professor talked about her areas of research during a lecture which included analyzing proteins found in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. I sent her an email discussing my interest in the field and asked if there was any way I could get involved with her work. We sent a couple of emails back and forth, had a short interview, and I was on the team!
For some research opportunities in the Faculty of Math, jobs are posted on an individual basis in the fall and winter terms to a given department's Undergraduate Research Assistantship job board. In the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science, there are Honours thesis courses where you carry out a project under the supervision of a faculty member, offered for the programs Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Physics, Psychology, and Science and Business.
There are also campus-wide opportunities to participate in full-time research under the supervision of an eligible grant holder by applying for an Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). The application process is done through the NSERC’s online system, and the Office of Research provides more information on USRA’s. You can also check out which research projects are currently being funded by Waterloo through their page — maybe you’ll find something that interests you!
Jasmine found her current research position through a professor whose class she had taken and enjoyed the previous term, PSYCH 264. Jasmine says, “I spoke to my professor after class about possible research positions, and we set up a Zoom meeting not long after to further discuss the opportunity. We compared our research interests, I was informed on a current project, and then my professor welcomed me to the team. After an application through the psychology department that we both filled out, along with a quick approval from the psychology advisor, I was officially a research assistant. It’s been very helpful and eye opening in terms of the tasks that might be expected of me if I choose to pursue a career in research”.
Undergraduate Research Assistantships (URA)
Research opportunities for undergraduate students don’t just stop there — there are also more paid opportunities! Undergraduate research assistantships are part-time research positions that allow you to work with faculty members to further your knowledge in your field of study. These enriched opportunities are available for Math, Computer Science, and Engineering students, with research project names ranging from “Computation Over Encrypted Data” to “Music on a Whim”! The Cheriton School of Computer Science also provides many valuable part-time and full-time research opportunities to its undergraduate students, including a Mathematics Undergraduate Research Award program, and Undergraduate Research Fellowships, with areas of research including Computer Security, AI, and Human-Computer Interaction.
Being a research assistant is an incredible opportunity to grow as a student beyond sitting in a lecture hall and skimming textbook readings. Getting hands-on experience really is incomparable — it’s a chance to learn something new and work with a massively hardworking team who is always there to provide support alongside your researching journey.
Take advantage of research opportunities
Learning the material is one thing — now it’s time to apply it. Undergraduate research experience is a great way to explore your field of interest and develop your skill set for your future career. With the huge variety of research opportunities that Waterloo provides, you have the chance to expand your knowledge, gain helpful guidance, build strong connections, and discover your passion for research.