Inside CREATE-U: Mechanical Engineering’s new Undergraduate Research Opportunity

This summer, the Department of Mechanical Engineering is spearheading an exciting new program designed to enable undergraduates to explore what research is all about. Combining Research Experience and Technical Electives for Undergraduates (CREATE-U) is a comprehensive package featuring six credits of coursework and a paid research project in a Mechanical Engineering lab (which can even count as a coop work term), helping undergraduates to try a skill set they may want to pursue further either through graduate school or in industry.

While this may seem like a lot to pack into two summer terms, these various elements are designed to fit together to give participants a complete and supported experience. The first course, MECH 410G Research Skills and Data Analysis, will be a bootcamp that introduces what research is, how the environment of a lab works and what people do there, how to read research articles and do an initial literature review, how lab funding works, and more. Many of these are skills researchers often develop through the experience of working in a lab or starting a research-focused graduate degree, so to have them packaged into an introductory class is an innovation that will give CREATE-U participants key insights into the work term ahead.

The paid work term itself will see undergraduates paired up with a graduate student mentor to help answer their questions, support their project, and adapt to working in a lab. Besides supporting the undergraduate participants, this innovative CREATE-U initiative provides a professional development opportunity for the mentors as well. They will receive training in leadership, how to be a good mentor, Equity Diversity and Inclusion, how to support a struggling student, and having a mentee will give graduate students their first supervisory-style relationship: an experience that will benefit them if they wish to continue in academia or as an industry leader.

At the same time as their work term, CREATE-U participants will take MECH 410H/550U Research Communication, which will introduce how a researcher communicates their results.  Building on the Research Skills and Data Analysis course, students will work on a narrative literature review, an NSERC outline of proposed research, a research abstract, and a final poster presentation. The poster presentation can then be used if the student would like to take part in UBC’s Multi-disciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC).

Besides being unique in terms of content, CREATE-U is a brand new way of looking at admissions as well. Applications will be broad based, and grades will only be one sixth of an applicant’s score. As long as an applicant has the minimum 76% average (taken from the minimum GPA requirement for graduate school) the application committee is looking to find undergraduates with qualities that will make them good researchers – an innate desire to explore ideas that will motivate them in the pursuit of answers. After applications are submitted, they will be reviewed by a fully blinded committee, and participants will be matched to their chosen projects in order of score. This process is designed to open research opportunities to as many people as possible, making the experience accessible to students who may not have thought of a future in research, despite having good research potential.

Approaching its first iteration, CREATE-U is currently a pilot project made possible by the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE). There are ten spots available, and interested undergraduates can review the available projects and application details here. Applications are due on Monday, December 2nd, 2019.