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McGill Reporter
December 12, 2002 - Volume 35 Number 07
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To the Editor:

Many thanks for your article introducing the NSERC SPARK program to the McGill University community. I encourage NSERC researchers to respond positively to SPARK participants who request an interview. To this end, I have identified all students who are part of this initiative: Susanna Atkinson, U3 Biology; Philippe Chouinard, PhD 2 Neurological Sciences; Jan Cooper, U3 Philosophy & Science for Arts students; Jean Edelstein, U3 English Literature & Political Science; Tamara Kelly, PhD 3 Human Genetics; Kimberly Krieger, U4 Physics & Geophysics; Crystal Mann, MSc 3 Earth & Planetary Science; Ian Popple, MSc Biology; Jesse Shapiro, U3 Biology; Tyler Smith, MSc 1 Plant Science. Please welcome these skilled students into your labs; doing so will help them cultivate their science writing skills and increase public awareness about your important research.

Linda Cooper,
SPARK Mentor & Associate Director,
Centre for the Study and Teaching of Writing

To the Editor:

I was pleased to see the article "Examining ugrad research" in the November 21 issue of the McGill Reporter, stating that the Senate Subcommittee on Teaching and Learning would be evaluating the role of undergraduate research at McGill. However, I was very surprised, and I might say disturbed, by some of the comments questioning the practicality and even advisability of encouraging a program of undergraduate research at McGill. Particularly disturbing was the statement by Principal Shapiro: "In such programs undergraduate students become a kind of 'cannon fodder' for the graduate programs, surely a betrayal of the implicit social contract under which universities are both supported and funded." Bruce Shore, Dean of Students, argued that McGill's academic culture and budget do not allow the kinds of programs of undergraduate research that are available in certain, highly regarded American schools.

It wasn't until after reading the article that I realized that the department to which I belong, Biology, was exceptional in having large numbers of undergraduates enrolled in courses involving independent research. According to the undergraduate advisor, Anne Comeau, who coordinates the honours program and independent studies, 146 Biology students have conducted research in professors' labs during the past two academic years. The professors supervising these students spanned the entire spectrum of research within the department, from molecular biology to behaviour.

Speaking personally, both the many undergraduates I have supervised, and my own research program have benefited greatly from the opportunity to interact in an active research environment. Those who seek out independent studies are the brightest and most enthusiastic students, and have brought significant insights into projects I would not have investigated without their contributions. In the last three years, students in my lab have contributed to, and been credited as authors (one as senior author) of, four major papers, published or in press. During that time, two have been accepted as graduate students in physical anthropology at Harvard and a third has enrolled in medical school; others have entered quite different careers.

Biology students are so excited when they discover, sometimes as early as their first year at McGill, that they can actually become involved and contribute to scientific research. Both the students and the staff in Biology have benefited greatly from our program of independent studies for undergraduates. Certainly this is an opportunity that can and should be much more widely available at McGill.

Robert L. Carroll,
Strathcona Professor of Zoology,
Department of Biology and Redpath Museum

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