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Pure Math undergraduate research opportunities

Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Undergraduate Student Research Award Program (NSERC USRA)


The Pure Mathematics Department participates in the NSERC USRA program. These awards allow outstanding undergraduate students to work in conjunction with faculty members in an academic research environment.

How do I know if an NSERC USRA is right for me?

You should consider your academic interests and future plans when deciding if you would like to apply for an NSERC USRA in the Department of Pure Mathematics. If you are interested in exploring academic life from the research side or if your goal is to apply for graduate studies in Pure Mathematics or a related field, the experience of an NSERC USRA could prove invaluable. Feel free to discuss your interests and plans with faculty members in the Department. Make sure, though, to look at the application requirements to determine your eligibility.

If I receive an NSERC USRA what will I be doing?

NSERC USRA recipients take part in a research project in an area of pure mathematics. The type of work will vary from project to project. In the past, some NSERC USRA projects have culminated in research publications. As well, many NSERC USRA recipients continue their research work in graduate school.

With whom will I be working?

Part of the application process is to approach a faculty member as a potential supervisor (see "How do I apply" below). If your application is successful, your faculty supervisor will outline a research project for you. You will also meet regularly with your faculty supervisor throughout the term of your award for guidance and to discuss your progress.

Am I eligible to apply for an NSERC USRA?

To apply for an NSERC USRA you must:

  • be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada;
  • be registered (at the time you apply) as a student in a bachelor's degree program at an eligible university; and
  • have obtained, over the previous years of study, a cumulative average of at least second class (a grade of "B" or "B-," if applicable).

Complete eligibility requirements are outlined on the NSERC website.
Please note that award recipients can only hold one NSERC USRA per NSERC fiscal year (April 1 - March 31).

How do I apply?

Applying for an NSERC USRA is a two-part process:

  1. Approach a faculty member as a potential supervisor. Try to choose someone whose area of research interests you; click here for a list of faculty members and their research interests. If the faculty member agrees to act as your supervisor, he/she will propose a research problem which will form part of your application (Form 202, Part II).
  2. Complete "Form 202 - Application for a USRA, Part I". This form should be completed online on the NSERC website.  You have two options as to how to forward your application to the Pure Mathematics Undergraduate office.  Email a pdf file of the completed form, a pdf file of your unofficial transcript and have the facutly member send a confirmation email to Pavlina Penk at pjpenk@uwaterloo.ca  or you may bring paper copies of the two items to Mathematics & Computer (MC) 5312 but still ask the faculty member to send an email to Pavlina Penk for confirmation.

When is the competition deadline?

Competitions for NSERC USRA's are held three times each year. Deadlines are as follows:

  • Fall term – beginning of May
  • Winter term – beginning of September
  • Spring term – beginning of January

Check with Pavlina Penk for specific dates. Please note: No applications will be accepted past the deadline;  the application process is on a tight schedule and we cannot accommodate late applications.

What is the value of the award?

The awards have a value of $4,500 for the full 16 consecutive week period (the normal duration of an NSERC USRA). In addition, the University will supplement the amount of the award, for a total of $10,000 for the four-month period. You will be expected to work a 35 hour work week.

How are award recipients selected?

The Department of Pure Mathematics, the Faculty of Mathematics and finally the University Graduate Studies Office evaluate all complete NSERC USRA applications received by the deadline. Evaluations are based on your academic record and research aptitude. Again please note: No applications will be accepted past the deadline; the application process is on a tight schedule and we cannot accommodate late applications.

If your application for an NSERC USRA is successful, the University Graduate Studies Office will notify you. In due course, Pavlina Penk from the Pure Mathematics Department will contact you with further instructions pertaining to your award.

How do I learn more?

The NSERC website contains all the award rules and requirements for the NSERC USRA program.
The Department of Pure Mathematics contact person for the NSERC USRA program is:

Pavlina Penk,
Administrative Coordinator - Undergraduate Studies                 
Department of Pure Mathematics                                             
Extension: 33931
Office: MC 5312
pjpenk@uwaterloo.ca