Undergraduate Students

I am always on the lookout for good undergraduate students, both for immediate work within my research group, and in the longer term for graduate studies. While my research page describes the type of projects you might work on if you join my research team, this page describes why you might wish to do work with a professor in a research group, as well as the various ways in which you might interact with me (other than taking a course I offer) as a undergraduate student. At present, I am aware of seven possibilities, of which I have used four. They are Combined Bachelor's/Master's Program, ECE 499 Project, intern/exchange, co-op, URA, USRA, and volunteer. In addition, undergraduates in E&CE at Waterloo are required to do a fourth-year design project, and so I will also comment on that in this page.

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Reasons for Undergraduate Research

There are several reasons for doing research with a professor while pursuing undergraduate studies. A number of these reasons are generic, while some have more specific limitations.

  1. a student can decide if s/he wishes to do a graduate degree,
  2. a student can interact with a professor, which is likely necessary for strong letters of reference on graduation (essential for good graduate school and scholarship applications),
  3. a student can work on bleeding-edge research, and
  4. the skill set necessary for success in industry is the same as the skill set necessary for success in research.

That last comment in particular needs some elaboration. Let me explain, as someone who has spent much of my professional career in industry, and who currently has research relationships with five companies. The comment, simply put, is this: your boss in industry really doesn't care if you are good at courses, or can write exams well. S/he wants you to innovate products. Innovate? Wow! Sounds like you must do something novel and significant. That's research! Further, uou must be able to describe this innovative idea to your boss, to persuade him/her to fund the idea. Wow! Sounds like you must communicate this idea, likely both orally, in a presentation, and in writing, like a publication. This is the same skill set as you acquire in doing research, even as an undergraduate.

Combined Bachelor's/Master's Program

The combined Bachelor's/Master's Program is a mechanism by which undergraduate students at Waterloo can receive early entry into the graduate program, and reduce they time to completion of the Master's degree. Typically an 80% average is required for entry into the program, as well as the acceptance of a supervisor. I have had two such students, and find the program works well. If yo uare interested in this program, first check my research page, and if you like what I am doing, contact me for a meeting.

ECE 499 Project

The ECE 499 Project course is a one- or two-term project, performed under the supervision of a faculty member in E&CE. It is typically taken in lieu of a technical elective. Implicitly, the project must be of mutual interest to the student and the faculty member. As such, I suggest you look at my research page if you think you might be interested in doing this. The reasons for doing it are much the same as for being a part-time volunteer, with the added incentive of getting a credit on your transcript. The limitation is that it is only applicable to fourth-year students (though it is better to arrange it in advance, during course selection in 3B). Volunteers can be at any stage of their degree. Please check my research page if you are interested in this, and contact me for a meeting.

Intern/Exchange Students

There are two basic categories of intern/exchange students: those on a formal exchange, who may wish to do work with me, and those looking for a paid internship as part of their degree program. I do not generally support paid internships. Those that I do, I have had prior experience with. Sorry, but I simply don't have money to spare, so I have to put it where I am certain it will count. For exchange students, while I am happy to consider having you work in my research group, it is frequently best to wait until you arrive and I can meet and talk face-to-face to discuss specific projects you might want to work on. To get a general idea of projects, look at my research page.

Co-Op Students

I do not anticipate employing co-op students in the near future. That said, look at the USRA section of this page, which is remarkably similar to a co-op position.

URA Students

An Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) is an opportunity for a student with an average of more than 80% in the previous term to work directly with a professor on some research topic. The work is nominally 6 hours per week, and the pay is $600. I have yet to employ a URA, mostly because when students ask and I describe things, they typically realize that it is more work than they anticipated. That said, feel free to look at my research page and see if you find anything interesting. If something does strike you as interesting, contact me for a meeting. If your average is less than 80%, you might want to look at the volunteer section of this page.

USRA Students

A USRA is an Undergraduate Student Research Assistantship. It is a four-month replacement for a co-op term during which the student works on a research problem with a professor and (likely) his research group. The student is paid the princely (princessly?) sum of about $6,000 for this, some of which comes from NSERC, and some of which is paid for by the professor. Please check my research page if you are interested in this, and contact me for a meeting. If your average is less than 80%, you might want to look at the volunteer section of this page.

Volunteer Students

I have had a few students do volunteer work in my research lab. First, let me explain the various flavours of volunteer. Second, let me explain why you might do this. Third, let me explain why you might not do this. Volunteers come in two basic flavours. One is the part-time person, who wishes to work a few hours a week doing some research, while doing coursework. The second is the full-time person, replacing a co-op term. The reasons for doing this are essentially those listed above with the added aspect that the student does not qualify for a URA or USRA. Specifically, the typical case here that I have dealt with is a student does not have an 80% average. If the student has an 80% average, the URA or USRA can be used, while doing the same things as listed above.

I would note that the idea of volunteering is not as strange as it might sound, since I have had students in the lab on this basis who have changed their career paths as a result, including more than one who have been highly successful as graduate students. Without the prior volunteer experience, they would not have been admitted to graduate school, since their average was insufficient, and there was no other indication of possible success. This volunteer activity provides that alternate indication of success that allows a professor to decide to take on such a student.

Finally, let me close by commenting on why not to volunteer. Volunteering as a way of getting easy access to labs, and hopes of good letters of reference are only worthwhile if you are actually going to do the work involved. I have, regrettably, had volunteers (and paid workers) who believe that they do not have to work. Such people do not get the benefits they seek.

Fourth-Year Design Project Students

The fourth-year design project is not, per se a research project. However, if you wish to pursue some research angle, I am very happy to help you. In particular, I have mentored several fourth-year design projects, and all have some research component. My general philosophy is to let the students start with an initial idea, and then I will offer constructive criticism. That said, I am more than happy to offer ideas. They can be more research focused, or product focused, depending on your preference. If I do offer ideas, however, the group must buy into the idea. Indeed, whatever the group choose to do, they must believe in, and maintain that belief until the end of the project. At some point I'll write up more here, but that's it for now.

Paul A.S. Ward
Last modified: Thu Nov 3 16:06:27 EST 2005

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