April 25, 2022

Programs expand capacity and reduce barriers to undergrad research opportunities at UCalgary

Over 1,600 students have conducted undergrad research in last two years
Dr. Kyla Flanagan, PhD
Kyla Flanagan is academic lead (undergraduate research initiatives).

“Students see undergraduate research as an impactful activity,” says Dr. Kyla Flanagan, PhD, academic lead (undergraduate research initiatives) in the Office of Experiential Learning (OEL) in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.

“Our 2020 National Survey of Student Engagement results show that 41 per cent of undergraduate students intend to participate in research with a faculty member, but only 24 per cent of students report doing so by their fourth year.” 

This data indicates potential for growth. “Our students are saying that they want more opportunities to engage in undergraduate research,” says Flanagan. In the past two years, Flanagan and others in the OEL have collaborated with institutional partners to support over 1,600 students conducting research at UCalgary.

Undergraduate research can be embedded in many academic courses regardless of the field of study and format (online or in person). It can even be done in large classes.

“The accessibility of this model maximizes the number of students who can get involved in research earlier in their undergraduate careers,” notes Flanagan.  

The impact of students conducting research is profound. Our goal is to expand capacity and reduce barriers. To bring this work to the next level, we want to build more partnerships with others dedicated to undergraduate research on campus.

 Flanagan and the OEL are working toward increasing access to undergraduate research opportunities for equity-deserving groups, deepening ties to the community, and creating hands-on learning for students through three key programs. More detailed information is available in this report.

Deeper experiences for future researchers 

Dr. Ariane Cantin, PhD, an instructor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is a faculty supervisor for the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE). "For me, undergraduate research is about collaborating with students. They have a lot of great ideas and see connections I wouldn't necessarily see,” says Cantin, who became a PURE supervisor last year.

PURE provides students with up to $7,500 to engage in an intensive summer research project with a faculty supervisor. Like academic research grant applications, students develop a research proposal and undergo a competitive process. 

“I had never supervised a PURE student before, but my student was very convincing in wanting to work with me. I learned to let students have time to think for themselves, rather than me telling them what I would do,” reflects Cantin. 

In 2021, the OEL helped allocate $849,000 in PURE funding to 151 students. Ninety-nine per cent of students engaged in the program reported significant improvements in their understanding of how researchers work on real problems.

Specialized research streams to solve global challenges 

In the pilot program, Research on Global Challenges, students conducted a research project under the mentorship of a faculty member. Projects were based on research streams that aligned with one or more of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“I collaborated with students in different disciplines in ways I had never done before. Also, learning about research and Indigenous peoples and their lived experiences opened new ways of knowing for me,” says Mackenzie Van Doorn, a third-year cellular, molecular and microbiology student.

Graduate student research coaches also support the program. Marcus Young, a research coach and communication and media graduate student emphasized the connection between teaching and research: “I got to see how what I was teaching was also applicable to what I was doing in my own studies. Students would tell me stories or show me their work that made connections in ways that were exceptionally unique.”

Flanagan will be evaluating how to scale the Research on Global Challenges course model more broadly across campus.

Increased access to research through course-based opportunities

Since 2020, the OEL has also piloted a program for academic staff to design course-based undergraduate research experiences (or CUREs for short). These programs are developed to facilitate student-driven research projects as part of the course curriculum. To date, 1,280 undergraduate students have engaged in CUREs developed through the pilot.

As a result of the pilot, a new micro-credential program for academic staff, Designing a Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience, will launch this spring. Academic staff in the program will redesign their course or lab-based activities as student-driven independent or collaborative research projects. Register here before May 17.  

About experiential learning  

Experiential learning enables students to increase understanding, advance perspectives, clarify values, develop skills, and promote new ways of thinking and doing. These opportunities prepare students to lead and respond to change and thrive in an increasingly complex world. Learn more about experiential learning.