Pure Math undergraduate research opportunities

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

What is an NSERC USRA?

An NSERC USRA is a financial award that allows outstanding undergraduate students to work for a semester with a faculty member, in an academic research environment.

USRA recipients take part in a research project in an area of Pure Mathematics, 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. Some projects have culminated in research publications; see a list of recent publications. Some have won significant awards; see a list of recent research awards.

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

With whom will I work?

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.

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"). (This is a minimal requirement--selection is competitive.)

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).

For NSERC ineligible students, there are a limited number of departmental research opportunities.  Please contact Pavlina Penk for more information.

What is the value of the award?

The awards have a value of $4,500 for the term (16 weeks). In addition, the University and your supervisor will supplement the amount of the award, for a total of between $9,000 and $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.

If your application for an NSERC USRA is successful, you will be notified with further instructions.

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 is of interest to you; click here for a list of faculty members and their research areas. 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). If you need advice, please contact Professor David McKinnon, the Pure Mathematics Associate Chair for Undergraduate Affairs.
  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 faculty 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.

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