What it's like to do Research at UofT (COVID edition)

This is my first blog post, marking the beginning of many more to come. I present to you concise summaries of my experiences that I think at least one person in this world would find useful (it'll probably be future-me). I am an amateur, so I'll get things wrong and you call me out alright? Here we go!

Key Takeaways:

(the section where you've only got time to read on your toilet)

  1. Remote projects will probably be coding-based.

  2. Meetings, conferences, collaborations. Yeah, all virtual.

  3. If you're lucky enough, your professor might buy you a 3D printer and other photo-electronics to play at home.


a bacteria-surface interaction simulation

Due to COVID-19, I had to work remotely which meant that my project had to be possible out of the lab. Unconventionally, I was delegated an individual project without any direct supervision from a graduate student or a postdoc. I was a beginner with Python and I was told to build a whole simulation with limited guidance because nobody in the lab had coding experience. I was incredibly intimidated and excited at the same time. I've always wanted to learn how to code for such a long time, but I didn't know where to start. A life-long lesson I've learnt is that: if you don't know where to start, just dive right in and you'll be surprised how much you can achieve. Even if it means googling "Python", "How to Python", "Python what?", you are literally heading miles in the right direction. I found that having something concrete to work on helped the learning process. So, if you want to learn how to code, brainstorm a project that you'd be passionate about and force it into existence. For more info on my simulation work, check out my GitHub: https://github.com/stanlo229/surface-simulation-goh-lab

Meetings, Conferences?

Zoom. Whatsapp. Email. Discord. Microsoft Teams.

Those are all the platforms I found myself communicating with my group members, professor, or other researchers. At that point, what were in-person meetings and conferences actually like? I've never been to group meetings and research conferences doing a whole year of research... But I have been to virtual ones. The best part of virtual conferencing was the lack of a stage which meant no stage fright! It was so much easier to present to a computer screen than dozens of people. At the end of the day, in-person experiences are the only way to truly bond with people over research that we're passionate about.

My professor bought me an SLA 3D Printer

Anycubic Photon S

I think an incredibly important part in your research career, is picking the right supervisor. My professor really believes in young people and she invested in me to learning things that I was interested in. I learned all of the intricacies with 3D printing using some of the newest technology that's been commercialized for the masses - SLA (UV-resin) printers. I even opened a Fiverr account to get some more experience while making it a side-hustle. If you want to learn more about how that went, stay tuned! I'm currently working on assembling a PRUSA 3D filament printer and hopefully by the start of May, I'll have an Etsy shop up and running.

How I got the research position!

(useful to any keeners in highschool or first year)

At UofT (in Chemistry), there are a lot of opportunities but there's definitely some barriers of entry. Let's start with where we can find these opportunities:

  • Department-wide awards


  • ROP, 399Y/499Y courses

  • Work-Study (through CLN)

  • Faculty research awards (never really looked into this)

The main things that the committee looks for in an applicant are:

  • GPA

  • Passion/Letter of Intent/Personal Statement

I had a cGPA of 3.87 (at the end of 2nd yr) and I showed my passion for research by writing about my previous experiences doing Chemistry experiments in the IB program. Keep in mind that I knew from high school, I wanted to do research and basically commit my life to it because I loved the process and the journey ahead.

After I received the NSERC USRA award letter, it was time to go searching for a home. All you have to do is find a professor in the department that you find most intriguing and aligns with your goals and interests. Lucky for me, I found Cynthia Goh who had made big strides in Chemistry and Entrepreneurship. I also suck at Organic Chemistry so thank goodness she was doing Physical Chemistry, we love that.

Talking to professors is daunting at first, but they're people too. They know that you are an undergraduate who has no experience and knows very little. As long as you show them that you're passionate and not afraid to take criticism, they'll most likely take you in. (when they see "NSERC" in the email, they reply instantly but don't quote me on it.) Here's my very first email:

Thanks for reading! Leave a like down below if you learned something new!

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