For Ria Menon, a biomedical science student at the University of Waterloo, conducting research plays a large role in her program. But getting involved in research often requires undergraduate students to take 400-level classes, also known as senior thesis courses. 

But if students are lucky enough to know someone who is currently involved in research, those network connections can help them advance in research opportunities earlier in their studies, Menon explains. 

“Lab courses are great for learning the techniques, but they lack real world applications where you can see the value in what you’re learning,” Menon says. She noticed this early in her studies and created Real Research to provide undergrad students with more opportunities to get involved in scientific research labs on campus.  

Ria Menon, Tiffany Tchigio and Nicole Soja at a Velocity event

From left to right: Real Research co-founders Tiffany Tchigio, Ria Menon and Nicole Soja at a Velocity event.

During their initial pilot program in the spring 2023 term, Real Research saw a 100 per cent recommendation rate from their first cohort of 20 students. The applications have since doubled in size with a staggering 117 applicants for the fall cycle.   

“That just demonstrates the need for the Real Research program to fill in the gap that is missing for undergraduate students and research to be connected,” Menon says. 

The student-run venture program is led by Menon and two other co-founders: Tiffany Tchigio, who is also a biomedical science student, and Nicole Soja, a student in the Department of Biology.  

Supporting students to find the value and passion for research  

Menon says she was lucky enough to get involved in research during her first year by reaching out to one of her teaching assistants (TAs). She was then inspired by her TA to do the same for other people by sharing the knowledge and resources she gained through her experience. 

Real Research pairs each student with either a graduate student or a fourth-year undergraduate student as a mentor for the term. 

“We take students on, and we mentor them to be competent in the lab so after being trained with us and working on research projects through different labs, they can be confident enough to do research in a different setting or seek out other opportunities,” Menon says.  

Real Research co-founder, Ria Menon, mentors a group of undergrad students by sharing valuable knowledge and skills through hands-on experience at the Velocity Science lab space.

During the program, the group of undergraduate students would gain valuable knowledge and skills through hands-on experience as they rotate between different labs on campus, including the Velocity Science lab space, with a research supervisor to validate their skills and knowledge. 

“I didn’t think research would be part of my future when I entered undergrad, but I got involved and realized how much I love it,” Menon says. “That is another reason why I want other people to get involved in research so they can find out whether they want research to be a part of their career.” 

For the past 16 years in a row, Research Infosource has named Waterloo Research University of the Year among Canadian comprehensive universities. Waterloo undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to learn more about the wide range of research opportunities at the University.  

During the spring 2023 term, Menon joined GreenHouse and pitched Real Research for the first time at the 29th Social Impact Showcase. She won the People’s Choice award, receiving $1,000 in funding to support her student venture and an additional $500 in funding during the fall 2023 Social Impact Showcase.  

Watch Ria Menon pitch Real Research at the spring 2023 GreenHouse Social Impact Showcase 

Menon is now a GreenHouse ambassador where she not only advocates for students to learn more about resources at the social impact incubator, but she also provides mentorship for students with health-related ventures. 

Menon looks forward to graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science and plans to continue doing research through a master’s and PhD program.  

While Menon and the two co-founders hope to continue working on running Real Research over the summer, their goal is to be able to train enough students to have a small group of mentors that can carry on the torch and pass on their knowledge to the next generation of researchers. 

“The main thing with research is resilience,” Menon says. “Getting involved in research is not easy. But if you have a passion for it and you have resilience, then it’s easy to stay in it.” 

Learn more at a Real Research event 

On January 24 and 25, Real Research will be hosting two seminar sessions that is open to all undergrad students to learn more about how to get involved in research, the different research opportunities that are available, and the application process to get involved with the Real Research program.  

Students will also hear from faculty about their current research projects and labs. Registration is not required, and light refreshments and snacks will be provided.