Last Tuesday, McGill’s second Undergraduate Education Forum took place, discussing the question of how undergraduate students fit in at a research-intensive university.
With roughly 35 students and faculty members in attendance, the forum sought to generate ideas on “undergraduate research at McGill, practicality in undergraduate research, intelligent use of study space on campus, class dynamics, and career services” through round-table discussions with participants.
The forum’s facilitator, Associate Director of Teaching and Learning Services Laura Winer, explained that 20 per cent of undergraduate students are engaged in research programs that are not part of their course requirements.
Although this number is higher than that of most post-secondary institutions across Canada and the United States, Winer explained that the majority of undergraduates are not exposed to the same opportunities and experiences of this privileged few.
“Research that starts in the first years [of McGill can] frame the rest of the way in which students approach further [studies]… Without these experiences, research is seen as this mythical thing that students become anxious about,” Winer said.
Winer continued to explain that many students find opportunities for research and non-credit related studies through public events and publications, and the benefits of internships and placement programs.
According to U4 student, current chair of the DPS Board, and former Daily Design and Production Editor Aaron Vansintjan – one of the students who participated in the forum – “there is some flexibility at McGill, you just have to find it.”
Vansintjan said that while students are often unaware of opportunities to further their education, research is possible through unique methods.
Vansintjan is one of the student organizers of the Alternative University System at McGill, a collaborative student project that began earlier this semester, promoting flexible non-credit classes.
While this system, according to Vansintjan, is ideal, he is still left with the questions of how to ensure that the classes last, and that students will keep coming back.
By providing the necessary support through professors and abandoning the idea that “students are sponges,” Vansintjan stated that “[students] can become empowered.”
SSMU VP University Affairs Emily Clare commented on whether the forum was a success.
Clare explained that, “We tried to replicate the format of consultation fairs because we thought it would be easier for students to interact for things.
“I think we still have to figure out exactly the format of the discussions,” she added.
According to Clare, one of the main issues of organizing the forum continues to be dealing with poor turnout.
Once completed, ideas that come from the Undergraduate Education Forum will be made available to the public through compiled reports on the SSMU website.