May 21, 2020

450 undergraduate students participate in summer research projects

Projects able to adapt and move forward in a world of social distancing

UCalgary student Jodhvir Nagra is fascinated with engaging people in local communities to gather their opinions on health-care policies and frameworks.

As a second-year undergraduate student, he is looking forward to a summer undergraduate research program offered at the University of Calgary that will allow him to spend eight weeks working as a public health researcher investigating this very topic.

As COVID-19 started to shut down non-critical operations across the country, Nagra worried that his summer research studentship might not happen. Luckily, program co-ordinators behind the scenes were able to pivot and continue the program in a meaningful way. In total, 450 students across campus were accepted into various summer research studentships.

“I am so impressed with how everyone came together for our students. We were presented with many challenges, and teams figured out how to offer summer research programs remotely,” says Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president academic. “This will ensure that students will continue to get great research experiences throughout the summer.”

Research work continues — remotely

Some of the ways students are able to continue doing research remotely include conducting literature reviews, accessing virtual collections, conducting data analysis for research labs, and collecting research data remotely through online interviews, focus groups and surveys.

Nagra’s summer research project will explore how religious leaders believe their organizations can play a role in increasing the health and wellness literacy of the community they belong to. Working with his supervisor, Dr. Turin Chowdhury, PhD, Nagra’s data collection will involve conducting interviews with Sikh religious leaders in Calgary to investigate their understanding of health and wellness topics and issues, and see what role Sikh temples can play in trying to increase awareness and spread information about health-related issues in the Sikh community of Calgary.  

“Our hope is that we are ultimately able to work with them to help support any potential health education initiative they may be hoping to launch,” says Nagra, a Bachelor of Science student in the Faculty of Kinesiology.

Normally Nagra would meet with community leaders to conduct interviews, but due to COVID-19, religious temples have been temporarily closed in Calgary. As an alternative he is conducting the interviews over telephone or videoconference. 

While Nagra may have to modify how his data collection is done, he is excited that his research project is moving forward. 

“I was relieved to hear that UCalgary was able to adapt the program to provide it online. It is really a reflection of the dedication of the University of Calgary to provide meaningful experiences to its undergraduate students no matter what the circumstances may be. It must have been a challenge to adapt all their resources and provide it to students remotely, but I am very appreciative of the fact that they did,” he says.

Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research), echoes that sentiment and is pleased that so many students can continue their research projects. “UCalgary recognizes the value of the student research, scholarship, and training experiences that typically take place over the summer,” he says. “It was heartening to see so many supervisors, co-ordinators and students come together in a short period of time to find solutions.”

Turin Chowdhury is an assistant professor in the departments of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences in the Cumming School of Medicine. He is also a member of the university’s O'Brien Institute for Public Health and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.