The Road to Undergraduate Research

Sarah Arnold

On Wednesday November 24th, the McMaster Society for Engineering Research (MacSER), hosted their

6th Annual Research and Entrepreneurship Fair. This event, hosted virtually for the second year in a row

due to the pandemic, serves as an opportunity for undergraduate students to learn more about different

possibilities in research and innovation at the university. The evening began with an informative

presentation given by the Associate Dean of Engineering, Dr. John Preston, as well as the President and

Vice-President of the society. Afterwards, participants had the opportunity to explore booths from different research labs, spanning across multiple faculties.

The journey to finding a research position can be a long, tedious, and often frustrating task. Undergraduate students who are new to university are not always sure how to begin. Presented below is a breakdown of what is often considered the “go to formula” for approaching this process.

Step 1: Identify the type of research opportunity that you are interested in
  • Check OSCARplus or LinkedIn for any research related job posts

  • Explore the research clusters, which are broken down on the Faculty of Engineering's webpage.

  • There are 8 clusters. You can explore the different clusters and the type of research that is being done in the field.

  • At this time, also ask yourself if you would be willing to work as a volunteer.

  • Within each research cluster, you can search the related faculty who are currently conducting research in the field.

  • Look closely at their research, explore their labs, and make notes about which topics intrigue you most.

  • Create a list of professors that you are most interested in working with.

  • Before you send off the email, make sure you have familiarized yourself with the professor's work.

  • Ensure your resume is up-to-date and organized.

  • You should also try to have a professional and current LinkedIn page.

  • Did you know that you can customize your LinkedIn URL? You can shorten it and include it in the header of your resume.

  • Resume and LinkedIn critiques can be booked on OSCARplus. These are amazing resources!

  • Okay... this is the daunting part! Drafting a formal and well-written email is a bit difficult, yet an important part of the process. Below is a typical template that can be followed:

Hello Dr. ___,

Intro: Introduce yourself, your program, and express your interest in potential research

experience. Discuss what interests you about their work. It is important to customize this

section for the professor.

Body: This is where you can talk about your strengths and abilities. This section can be either

bullet point or paragraph form. Describe different leadership, volunteer, and other extra

curricular experiences you have had that have helped you develop your skills. However, do not

make this too lengthy. Mention that you have attached your resume for reference (make sure to

include it as a PDF).

Closing: Mention your interest in meeting, if possible. This is where you can include that you

would also be happy with exploring any volunteer opportunities (if applicable).

Ending sentiment,

Your Name

  • Professors are very busy and it may take a fair amount of time to hear a response.

  • You may not hear back at all - and that is okay! While it may be discouraging, please remember that it’s truly nothing personal.

  • A professor may respond saying that their lab is full or that they are unable to take on any more students.

  • If a professor is interested, they may invite you for an interview.

  • Expect to discuss your abilities and interest in their projects. Also expect to discuss potential grants they will want you to apply for.

  • Most often, professors will hire students with external funding (eg. NSERC)

  • Grants such as these will typically have deadlines in the first-half of second semester


It’s important to remember that not everyone will be able to secure a research position, and

that’s okay! There are still several great co-op or educational enrichment opportunities out

there if you are interested. It is still a great accomplishment to put yourself out there and try to

seek out an opportunity.

Best of Luck!