Jan. 24, 2020

Award ignites UCalgary student’s interest in studying accessible mobility on post-secondary campuses

Program for Undergraduate Research Experience deadline Feb. 7
Man in wheelchair

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to get involved in research as an undergraduate student? Do you have exciting ideas about research topics that interest you? The Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) at the University of Calgary makes it possible for students to work with on-campus experts to learn how research projects are developed, and how their results can contribute to new knowledge while solving problems in society.

PURE provides up to $6,000 of financial support to UCalgary undergraduates to conduct research for eight, 12 or 16 weeks between May and August. Applications for the 2020 PURE program are open until Feb. 7, 2020.

Research inspiration

Each PURE learning experience is a unique opportunity to develop research skills and explore research interests. It is also an opportunity for undergraduate students to connect with supervisors that have similar interests.

Shifa Hayat, BSc’19, completed a 16-week PURE research term with her supervisor, Dr. Victoria Fast, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Geography. Her project focused on mapping accessible mobility features, and later in her honours thesis, she studied sidewalk connectivity for people with mobility-related disabilities — a topic that inspired her to pursue a master’s degree in geography with Fast as her graduate supervisor.

“Mobility impairment is one of the leading causes of disability and prevents a growing number of Canadian youths using assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, from attending university due to inadequate campus design that undermines accessibility," explains Hayat. "The purpose of our research was to better understand barriers and aids to accessible mobility that people with mobility-related disabilities encounter on campuses.”

After participating in the PURE program and completing a comprehensive research project, Hayat had the opportunity to present her work at conferences and publish a conference paper with her supervisor, based on this preliminary work. “The opportunity to critically engage with a topic of interest and receive mentorship from one of the university’s best researchers gave me clear direction for what I wanted to do after graduation and more specifically, the questions I want to address in my master’s thesis,” says Hayat.

Why get involved?

As an undergraduate, Hayat enjoyed all of her classes but felt that research projects completed as part of coursework often lacked in depth and the capacity for self-direction. She decided to pursue an honours thesis and approached Fast with an interest in her research, to which she recommended that Hayat apply for the PURE award.

“The award provided me with the opportunity to experience research outside of the classroom and in doing so, practice important skills like data collection and analysis, communication and collaboration — skills that are going to be very relevant to success in graduate studies,” says Hayat.

Fast was inspired to get involved with supervising PURE students from her experience as an undergraduate research assistant. “While this research experience inspired me to do graduate work, I couldn’t help but imagine how much more impactful it would have been if I had the opportunity to define my own research interests and project,” she explains.

“The PURE program provides an opportunity for students to pursue their ideas, and develop them into a meaningful research project.”

Advice for undergraduate students

All PURE recipients need faculty supervisors to mentor and support them throughout their projects.

“If you have a research idea, and want the opportunity (time, funding) to explore it, PURE is a great option,” says Fast. “My advice: Bring your idea to a professor with similar research interests. The students I supervised first approached me to discuss/explore a research topic they were interested in. With the PURE program, I was able to then channel that research interest into a summer-long project.”

To students who are interested in applying, Hayat emphasizes the importance of seeking out a supervisor whose research interests align with their own. “Delving into a topic that you care about and feel inspired by makes for very satisfying work,” she says.

“Dr. Fast often reminded me during my PURE research term that, as researchers, we stand on the shoulders of giants new knowledge is not generated spontaneously but rather built upon the foundations of what is already known,” explains Hayat. “I think this should encourage PURE student researchers to not feel overwhelmed or pressured to go from zero to extraordinary, but instead seek inspiration, build upwards, and realize that your results, too, can be a stepping stone towards something greater.”

For more information on the PURE program and how to apply for an award, visit the website.

The PURE Awards are administered by the College of Discovery, Creativity and Innovation (CDCI) at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning