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Enhancing undergraduate research experiences

Research Excellence | Strategy 8: Student Research
Theme: Collaboration
Liam Orme, UBC alumnus and Climate Hub Coordinator, is working on the PURE-funded Climate Justice Research Collective
Liam Orme, UBC alumnus and Climate Hub Coordinator, is working on the PURE-funded Climate Justice Research Collective

“We’re designing a program to engage students to come together across disciplines and tackle a problem that is relevant to the communities they identify with,” explains Liam Orme, UBC alumnus and coordinator of the UBC Climate Hub.

Liam joined the student-driven Climate Hub last year, while he was a student in the Bachelor of International Economics program. Responding to the urgent need to address the climate crisis through collaborative action, the Hub wanted to explore how they could generate positive impact through research.

Thanks to funding support from the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE), the Climate Justice Research Collective is now creating new opportunities for undergraduate students to collaborate with faculty and graduate students on climate-focused research.  

The initiative plans to host 12 undergraduate students mentored by three Graduate Academic Advisors in 2020, while another 18 undergraduates and four graduate advisors will participate the following year. Liam notes that this has only been made possible because of PURE, which is supporting 17 pilot projects, providing a total of $1.3 million in funding over two years — including $1 million in strategic funds.

“One of the challenges in bringing this work forward is that faculty members are capacity-constrained to supervise this kind of directed studies, so now we have another layer of support in terms of graduate students acting as advisors,” he says.

“Climate change is urgent but complex, and we want to make sure that education is treating it with the level of nuance and urgency it has.”

Liam explains: “There are incredible graduate students already doing this interdisciplinary work here at UBC, so we’re looking forward to connecting those students with the undergraduate students who are looking for the same thing, and then helping them tackle the same problems.”

Fund enables projects for undergraduate students across the university

The projects that received funding through PURE, which supports Strategy 8 (Student Research) in UBC’s strategic plan, were sponsored by a range of faculties, units and portfolios across both campuses, including Health & Social Development, Arts, the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, and the First Nations House of Learning.

For Associate Vice-President of Research & Innovation Helen Burt, this demonstrates the widespread interest in this new program.

“We are delighted to be able to support 17 innovative pilot projects that will positively impact the undergraduate research experience at UBC,” she says.

“PURE highlights the potential of the strategic plan to ensure that UBC continues to lead globally in research excellence.”

Helen also notes the importance of the UBC community in realizing the central priorities of the strategic plan, something which resonates with undergraduate alumnus and now master student Che-Min Lee, another PURE recipient.

Metrics

“I felt very honoured to be a recipient of this award. But beyond that, (the call for PURE) told me that UBC really cares about their student-led initiatives, they care about the visions that students have, and they care about having that multidisciplinary and big dissemination of student research.”

Che-Min received PURE funding to bring her Multidisciplinary Undergraduate 3-Minute Thesis proposal to life. Although 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) competitions are already popular at the graduate level, with events happening at UBC since 2011, they are not as common for undergraduate students.

One of the rare exceptions is the Undergraduate Biochemistry 3-Minute Thesis Competition, hosted by UBC’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, in which Che-Min presented her Biochemistry honours thesis at in 2018. Ultimately selected as one of the competition’s three winners, she realized there was an opportunity to share 3MT with the rest of the undergraduate community at UBC.

“It was really fun, and I was surprised that other students don’t do something similar, so, I decided to organize it myself.” Che-Min explains.

“I thought it would be cool to have an event that brings a lot of undergraduate students together and encourages sharing of research.”

Che-Min Lee presenting at UBC’s Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference.
Che-Min Lee presenting at UBC’s Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference

Thanks to the funding from PURE, Che-Min is now gathering a group of staff, faculty and fellow students to help expand the 3MT experience across UBC Vancouver, including organizing an event in February 2020 and assembling an adjudication committee to select the finalists.

By providing support for innovative projects such as the Climate Justice Research Collective and the Multidisciplinary Undergraduate 3MT, PURE is contributing to research excellence at UBC through broadening access to and enhancing student research experiences.

To learn more about PURE and the 17 funded projects, visit the UBC Research + Innovation site.