Why pursue a research opportunity?
Each year, many of our undergrads work closely with a professor on a research or development project. This work allows students to delve deeply into a topic that they find fascinating. Students may produce a novel research result that leads to publication, a piece of software that is used to solve a real-world problem, or a software innovation that they can contribute to an open-source project.
In addition to the rewards of work itself, most students find the experience of pursuing an independent project invaluable. Students learn how to tackle an open-ended problem, set achievable goals, adapt when unexpected challenges arise, and manage their time when there are many fewer deadlines than in a traditional course. These skills are of very high value whether the students plan to pursue graduate studies or a career in industry. And the professor who supervises students' project will not only teach them a great deal, but can act as a mentor, provide reference letters for jobs or graduate school, and open other doors for the students.
The three most common ways to work on a research project in our department
Capstone course: CSC490H1In capstone courses, students work on special projects that combine skills from several computer science areas. These projects focus on current, dynamic computer science topics, and varies from year to year with each supervising professor. Examples of recent capstone topics are: innovative video game interfaces, video game design, applied software engineering and real world consulting projects.
Computer Science Project: CSC494H1/CSC495H1In CSC494H1/CSC495H1, students and professors make an individual arrangement to work together on a specific project, which can be in any area of computer science that is of mutual interest.
To enrol in CSC494H1/495H1, have your supervisor email the Undergraduate Office with your name, student number, and project description. Your prerequisites will be checked, and when everything is in order you will be enrolled in the course.
Note: For your first project course, you will be enrolled in CSC494H1; and for your second project course, you will be enrolled in CSC495H1.
Summer research awards through NSERC and UTEA
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) sponsors Undergraduate Summer Research Awards (USRAs), which provide the opportunity to do paid research with a professor. These projects are often a launching pad for graduate school.
UofT's Excellence Awards in Natural Sciences and Engineering (UTEA) are very much like the NSERC USRA's, but they are open to students who are not Canadian citizens or landed immigrants, as long as they have a valid student visa for the full summer term.
For both USRAs and UTEAs, students may either apply to projects that we have posted or independently find a professor to work with. The duration of USRA and UTEA projects is 16 weeks during May to August.
How to approach a professor about a project
Get to know your professors! Speak up in class, join the scrum after class, go to office hours, and participate in department events for undergrads that take place outside your courses. This will enrich your education, and also mean that your profs know you well when the time comes to ask about a research project or a reference letter.
Find opportunities to talk to your profs about things other than what's coming up on your next assignment or midterm. You might discuss your course choices, or career plans, or talk about their research. Of course, your profs are busy and may not always have time at the moment, but if you look for opportunities for this sort of interaction you will definitely find it. Most of us can't resist a student who is really engaged in their education and asks the "bigger" questions.
When looking for a research opportunity, talk to all the profs you know well. Prepare yourself by finding out a little about their research. If you speak with them in person, plan what you will say in advance, and be sure to include a quick explanation of why you'd like to work with them and a little about your relevant background. Be prepared that they may not be able to work with you, and be ready to talk with the next person. If you have left this professor with a good impression, they may well refer you to someone else