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Soup and Science Introduces Research at McGill

McGill students, faculty return to popular lecture series

Looking for undergraduate research opportunities? Curious about the work being done by the Department of Science at McGill? Or just craving some warm soup? From February 26 to March 1 in the SSMU Ballroom, professors and undergraduate students from all fields of science showcased their research to the McGill community at the Faculty of Science’s 37th Soup and Science public talk series.

Soup and Science happens twice every academic year: once in the Fall term (usually late September), and once in the Winter term (usually January or February). Every day over the course of a week, five speakers — typically four professors and one undergraduate student from the Faculty of Science — give an overview of the aims and importance of their research work.

The talks, each lasting around five minutes, aim to provide brief but complete introductions of the speakers’ research to both current and prospective McGill students. They offer undergraduates an opportunity to interact directly with professors outside of class. Topics of the 37th Soup and Science talks ranged from evolutionary microbiology to bot detection, from drug synthesis and the development of quantum materials.

Following the lectures, audience members are challenged to a pop quiz on the topic of each presentation. Correct answers win the respondent a free “Faculty of Science” T-shirt. Afterward, soup is served for lunch — hence the “soup” in  Soup and Science — where students have the chance to mingle with the faculty, share their questions and discuss their interests. These discussions frequently end with offers for academic term or summer research projects.

Soup and Science was designed as a unique opportunity for students to meet their professors outside of the lecture hall. Science undergraduate programs often involve the successful completion of research projects, which take place either over the summer or during the academic term. For a first-time student researcher, searching for these positions can be daunting. This is where Soup and Science comes into play, with the aim to streamline this process by bringing professors and students together in a casual setting with more space for one-on-one conversations.

Rees Kassen, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and director of the Trottier Institute of Science and Public Policy, highlights the importance of promoting student-professor collaboration. He notes: “It’s hard for professors, in a lecture hall of 200 to 300 people, to interact with students. In my own research, I try to find ways to engage as many as possible. I hope to share my passion and get as many people as interested as possible.”

For newer students, Soup and Science also offers a window into the nature of research beyond the scope of their classes. Unlike cut-and-dry course content, real scientific investigations can be long and gritty, often requiring years of effort and a consistent process of trial and error to yield fruit.

“It’s really valuable for students to come and learn about science in a setting that is informal and welcoming,” says Grace Parish, an undergraduate researcher working at the Nguyen Lab in McGill’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. She observes how “presentations are short, engaging, and accessible, helping students figure out what they might be interested in without getting them bogged down in the details.”

Contrary to departmental seminars which tend to involve faculty members and graduate students in specific fields of research, Soup and Science talks are geared toward introducing research to an audience with little to no expected background. The relatively relaxed tone of the event serves to spark the curiosity of students and faculty alike, engaging them in a way where they feel more free to learn.

“These presentations really show the different things people do across the Faculty of Science,” says John Stix, Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Associate Dean of Research at McGill. He notes that while students are the main audience, the event is also of value to McGill professors as well. “[Researchers] tend to pigeonhole ourselves in our own fields, and we don’t know what people do across disciplines.”

Stix highlights the interdisciplinary benefits of Soup and Science in its ability to bring people from largely disparate fields, like geography and chemistry, together in the same room. For himself and many other professors, Soup and Science lectures also offer new perspectives on their own work in relation to other fields they are not necessarily familiar with. “Over time, people often find connections — an instrument, a computer program — between fields. The goal of Soup and Science is for both students and professors to get exposure to see the amazing work being done here at McGill.”

To learn more about Soup and Science, you can visit their website at, as well as view a selection of past talks on the McGill Science and McGill University YouTube channels.