Why pursue a research opportunity?
Many of our undergraduates 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 the 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 four most common ways to work on a research project in computer science:
Capstone course: CSC490H1
In capstone courses, students work on special projects relating to a predetermined theme under the supervision of a professor. The theme is usually announced a few months before the term the capstone course will be running in. The projects often combine skills from several computer science areas and students in the course may attend classroom sessions for several weeks at the beginning of term so they can learn the background knowledge they need. These projects focus on current, dynamic computer science topics, and the theme varies from year to year with each supervising professor.
Examples of recent capstone topics:
- Applied software engineering
- Video game design
- Video game interfaces
- Real-world consulting projects
Computer Science Project: CSC494H1/CSC495H1
In 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. If you'd like to work on a CSC494H1/CSC495H1 project, you should take the initiative by starting to ask professors whether they are willing to supervise you.
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 approved, 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.
Research Opportunity Program: CSC299Y1/CSC399Y1
The ROP gives you the opportunity to work closely with a professor (supervisor) in a research project during your Second Year (299Y) and Third Year (399Y).
Enrolling in a ROP early in their academic careers gives students an opportunity to become involved in original research. They can expect to learn research methods and share in the excitement and discovery of acquiring new knowledge while earning course credit towards their degree and program requirements. Also, students develop continuing relationships with faculty members who can act as mentors during their undergraduate years and assist them in applications to graduate schools or professional faculties. Professors benefit from the help and enthusiasm of specifically selected students.
To be eligible, you must be an Arts and Science degree student and have completed no less than four credits, but no more than fourteen. The course will begin in either May or September. Applications are due in early March.
Computer Science projects are not available every year. When they are, they are listed here.
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. You may approach a research faculty member directly, or apply through the matching process.
U of T'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, May to August.
How to approach a professor about a project
Get to know your professors!
- Speak up in class,
- Go to office hours
- Ask about their research
- Inquire about upcoming course material
- Seek advice about course choices, or career plans
- Participate in department events
These opportunities will enrich your education, and also mean that your professor knows you well enough when it's time to ask about a research project or a reference letter. Professors respond to a student who is really engaged in their education and asks the "bigger" questions.
When looking for a research opportunity:
- Know about their research
- Plan what you will say
- Give a quick "elevator pitch" of why you'd like to work with them
- Share how your academic background or skills are relevant to their research
- Be prepared they may not be able to work with you; talk to the next professor you know
- If you have left the professor with a good impression, they may well refer you to another colleague