Why you should apply for a JCURA
Guest post by Kim Dias
Ten years ago, UVic established the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA) program, which allows undergraduate students to research a project of their choosing under the mentorship of a faculty advisor. They also receive an award of $1500.
Over the course of the academic year, recipients conduct their research, then put together a poster and present their findings at the JCURA fair in March.
This year, I was lucky enough to receive a JCURA. For the last eight months, under the supervision of writing professor Lee Henderson, I’ve been researching the topic of my choice: retellings of Cinderella.
Unlike research papers or projects for a class, the subject of your JCURA is entirely up to you. No offence meant to research I’ve done for classes, but my research for JCURA was my favourite I’ve done in all my time in post-secondary education.
Under guidance from my supervisor, I chose exactly what the project would look like—what I would focus on, what my research methods would be, what I was hoping to gain. Because of that amount of control, I felt like there was so much passion that went into the research, both in my own project and others’.
On the day of the fair, I took some time to wander around and look at what other students had done for their JCURA. Everyone I spoke to about their project was so excited to share what they had learnt. Several people had also focused on extremely personal topics; they were some of my favourites to talk to because I got to see first-hand how research projects could affect a person’s life.
My experience with JCURA
JCURA was so full of new experiences for me. I’ve never had this much freedom on a research project before. Honestly? It was overwhelming. I didn’t know which direction to choose for my research; I didn’t know how to approach it; I didn’t even know what my thesis was. Meeting with my advisor helped with those issues and he provided a lot of guidance, but it was still up to me to choose where I wanted my research to go.
Then it hit my: I got to choose where I wanted my research to go. Looking at fairy tale retellings from a social or literary point of view didn’t interest me; looking at them from a writer’s point of view did—so why not do that? I conducted my research asking the questions, “What does this mean for me as a writer? How do I apply this knowledge to my own work?” The freedom that made my JCURA project so overwhelming ended up making it so relevant, personal, and applicable to my experiences and interests.
I was anxious about the fair. I’d never made a research poster before (no, not even in middle school) and I was so nervous to let people see it. On the day of the fair, I stood in front of my poster covered in information about Cinderella, tried to paste on a smile, and waited.
And then people talked to me. They came up to me, read my poster, asked me questions, and seemed genuinely interested in my answers. I thought the entire day would be an exercise in self-consciousness, but it was actually so validating. Everyone who spoke to me was kind and enthusiastic; some people even took photos of my poster so they could read the books I recommended. The research I’d thrown myself into for seven months wasn’t only interesting to me; other people cared.
What you should know about JCURA
The JCURA program provides such a unique, important experience to undergrads. You get to conduct your own research on a project you’re passionate about—and not only that, but it looks great on grad school applications, too. I wish people knew that it isn’t only for students in research-focused fields such as the sciences and social sciences.
Students in the humanities and fine arts were definitely in the minority at the JCURA fair, but we were also definitely there. Several philosophy students were there to present their research; someone was presenting a graphic novel as the result of his research. There is also a whole room set aside for people in the visual arts who have conducted research; their final presentation is not a poster, but an art project.
Nominations for the 2019-2020 JCURAs are currently open. If you have a topic you’d like to research, I’d suggest applying. Approach professors about supervising you. If you’re not sure who to ask, look through the list of previous applicants and see which professors in your department have supervised a JCURA in the past; they’d probably be open to doing it again. You can also look through the list of previous applicants to see the wide variety in topics that people have studied over the years—there is definitely space for the topic that interests you.
The deadline for JCURA nominations is June 30th. Get the details on applying here.