The Office for Undergraduate Research in Science (OURS), launched in September 2005, aims to establish active research as a cornerstone of undergraduate education, strengthening student understanding of the process and products of scholarship through first-hand experience. OURS’ annual Undergraduate Research Conference showcases the results of recent student research, and its popular “Soup and Science” lunch series provides a venue for students to discuss working with professors on research projects.
But the students aren’t the only people who benefit from such collaboration.
“Undergraduate researchers bring forward projects, they have new ideas, they discover new things,” says Roland Bennewitz, a professor of physics who has worked with 14 undergrad researchers since coming to McGill in 2004. This past summer, Bennewitz asked one such researcher to build an apparatus which makes the signal of a scanning force microscope audible; instead of following the suggested design, the student built an ingenious modification which dramatically improved the device’s sensitivity. “He had his own ideas, and was open to experimenting with new ways—and he taught me things about electronics!”
OURS is only the first step, with similar initiatives planned for other faculties as part of McGill’s new focus on undergraduate research.
“These are very good students,” adds Bennewitz. “They’re refreshing, and really contribute to science.”