MITACS Chapter 2: Research as work

By: Eva Kristinova (University of Regina, Canada, Mitacs Research Internship Scheme 21-22)

Imagine. You’ve arrived at your destination in Canada, you’ve run all the tedious errands in the first days, got yourself familiar with the area, and met a few nice people. What do you do now? That’s right – work.

Not that that is a shocker; after all, it is the whole purpose of the three-month trip. But it can be a bit challenging finding your pace again, especially if you’ve had a few weeks between the start of your internship and the end of the academic year. It’s summer, beautiful weather (although slightly colder in Canada, of course) and your body and brain naturally enter into vacation mode. That’s normal. In addition, it’s not just any kind of work you’re doing. It’s research. It requires you to really think about everything you do, question your assumptions on the way, and question some more. Thankfully, at least you stay in an academic setting. So, let’s talk about what it feels like to do the actual work on a research internship.

A DAY IN THE LIFE…

When I reflected on how to write about this, it struck me that the best way to show what it’s like to do full-time research as an undergrad would be to just take you along through one of my days. There are details that might not apply to your research, but I believe the experience itself covers more general territory.

First thing to note about my internship, is that, yes, it is done in a proper office space with colleagues and the like, but my supervising professor is actually not present on campus. This in itself is not a huge problem, and might not be as common for other research areas, but it may happen, and in that kind of a situation, communication is absolutely key. So, I start my day off with emails – checking for new instructions, documents that might have been added to the shared folder, and asking any questions from the day before. I like to do this in the morning, because professors, like all of us, are also people who probably want to spend their summer evenings on something other than work. Once everything is cleared up for the day (which also requires a quick zoom meeting once in a while), I get to work.

One other thing to point out about internships, or parts of an internship, that don’t require you to be in a lab or work directly with someone in an office (such as a literature review) is that you will have to rely on self-motivation pretty much constantly. And that means finding a space where you feel productive. I personally like to come to the office provided, but at UofR there are places to work all around campus depending on your preference – the Archer library, the Riddel Center with all its cafés, or even outside on the Green (on warm days at least). If you feel like you’re already spending too much time on campus, but you still like the cozy feeling of a library, I have the perfect place for you too – the Legislative building. That’s right! One of the top attractions in the city (of which more in my next post) has a library that is open to the public! Bonus: it provides some fresh resources that you might not necessarily find from your library or online searches.

Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina

So yes, I’ve done that before, although catching the bus back can sometimes be frustrating. Make sure to get to the stop 10 minutes early, as the bus can just speed by you before you’ve had the chance to cross the road to get there (there are many ‘no stopping’ bus stops in Regina… which I sometimes found out the hard way). Bottom line – if they don’t see you there, they don’t stop. Anyway, lunch can be pretty nice in one of the same cafés in the Riddel Center, or you can walk a few steps across the road to a few fast food chains and a convenience store. If you live on campus, you might as well just go home and cook as well.

And then there’s afternoons. In most office spaces you are welcome to stay and work until 5 or 6 pm, but from what I noticed, most people are done by 3:30. Which is convenient since that gives us all (Mitacs interns) a lot more time to spend exploring the city. And once you’ve done that, the province, or even the rest of the country. But more about that next time!

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