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Obtaining a USRA for Undergrad Research in Canada for Pure Math

  1. Oct 28, 2008 #1
    How competative is this scholarship? What is the level of knowledge needed for undergrad research for math. For example, if I wanted to do abstract algebra, would the dummit and foote book be enough to start looking at research or is a much deeper knowledge required? (masters level). Are there some topics like logic and number theory easier to do research in than say analysis?

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    Finished first year undergrad, 84% avg with standard calc, lin alg, cs, and probability courses. Was not in the advanced level theoretical lower level math classes at waterloo, but switching into them next semester.

    Thank you very much, I tried to find this online for a long time, but did not get anywhere, as the USRA applies to all sciences, and research in math is different than say chem or physics (experimental).
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 29, 2008 #2


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    NSERCs in general are tough to get. Even in undergrad. While the research might be different for math than physical sciences (and sometimes not--seriously), the generalities (administratively and application-wise) are the same. Keep in mind that there are only a few offered (and unless things have drastically changed, there are usually a fixed number allocated per department), and applications are adjudicated on the basis of:
    1) Marks (and class standing--remember, only a limited number are available)
    2) Research proposal (more from your prospective supervisors' end)

    First things first, if you want an NSERC, you need to find someone willing to take you on, and 'sponsor' your NSERC (do this within the next month or two as submission deadline is in January / February and it does take a certain amount of time to prepare!) They may also be able to provide you with more information on these NSERCs and what you might be doing (though you're probably better off asking your department's program advisor). They'll also be able to tell you whether or not you have a (good) chance at getting an NSERC. Or, at least, they should if you ask. TIP: approach professors you have a good rapport with.

    You can apply for a USRA at a different department / University, but I believe that you're still adjudicated based on your home department, and not that of the university / department you're applying to. (You should get this confirmed, however).

    As for the difficulty of the research, and level of knowledge required, well, that's entirely dependent on your supervisor. But they're generally aware of the fact that you're in undergrad. Most likely, your 'research' will be assisting a grad student with their research. You're generally not off on your own (unless you're really good with lots of prior research, or have a negligent supervisor).

    Good luck!
  4. Oct 29, 2008 #3
    Ask your department about how many people apply and how many scholarships they have.

    Ask around other departments and if you find one with a low volume of applications, apply there and you better your chances. Often this means you cannot be picky but in general, any department in the sciences should have professors doing projects involving math. Numerical studies, theory etc.

    Competition in my engineering department for a NSERC USRA was tough since all the applicants had high averages, so I went to the physics/astronomy department where the number of students were less and subsequently, fewer apps for USRA which made my app more competitive.

    The work itself varies. You could be helping the grad student(s) in the prof's research group or you could even be working towards your own original research contribution. It is only a 16 week stint so no one is expecting you to come up with something ground-braking in that time frame.

    There are also NSERC Industry USRA's check those out and NSERC also publishes a list of names of the winners and their topic/area of research. Check that list out to give you some ideas.
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