The Undergraduate Student Research Internship sees new changes in favour of undergraduate students

June 2023

A headshot of student Janelle AllenThe Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) has again partnered with the Western Undergraduate Student Research Internship (USRI) program for a third year, offering undergraduate students the chance to conduct original research under the supervision and mentorship of FIMS professors.

The summer internship provides professional development sessions to both students and their supervisors, designed to support their research work and career development. This year, the USRI program enhanced the student experience by increasing the minimum funding to $8,680 for full-time work over 16 weeks. Opportunities for students to participate in peer-to-peer engagement and group learning have also been increased to help strengthen the development of research skills. This summer the USRI program is funding 11 FIMS undergraduate students to work within eight research labs. Projects span from assisting professors to develop new courses to diving deeply into the research of popular music as an evolving form of creative labour in cultural industries.

Janelle Allan, a 4th-year Honours Specialization MIT student, is participating in the USRI program and undertaking her first original research project. With a passion for media production and data research, she sees the program as an opportunity to gain guidance and valuable experience.

Janelle is excited to be involved and highlights the program's timing and competitive compensation as particularly appealing to her.

“I am very grateful for this opportunity, and its perfect timing because I am already in university, figuring out the next steps and the program is available, and it pays well for a student position”, explains Janelle.

The ability to set up project work with specific faculty members was an encouraging factor for Janelle, as it allowed her to approach a professor she is already comfortable with and to collaborate on research topics that were of mutual interest.

“Being told I can work with one of my favourite professors is what solidified it for me because I can dive into topics that I like, with a professor that knows me and how I operate. It is a win-win”, explains Janelle.

Janelle is working with Associate Professor Joanna Redden whose research focuses on the social justice implications of “datafication,” a word used to describe the increasing quantification of life that is changing decision-making and ways of understanding people, issues and problems.

Janelle and Professor Redden are working as part of a research team to develop a record of data harms affecting Canadians. This work builds on Redden’s previous work investigating data harms and efforts to redress and prevent harm, published in Scientific American and online.

“To date, there is limited work that provides a record of the many ways Canadians are being harmed by increasing corporate and government uses of Artificial Intelligence and other algorithmic systems,” says Redden. “We think this is a problem because it means decision-making about if, where and how data systems should be used are not grounded in real-world experiences of impact. We are tracking incidents of harm in Canada, with particular attention to how harm is experienced differentially in relation age.”

Janelle's work specifically explores the effect of aging in data systems on women of colour. She is enthusiastic about conducting meaningful work while learning more about how to conduct impactful research.

“We are lucky to have Janelle join the research team. Janelle was in my Digital Activism course last year and through our conversations about data and surveillance it was clear that she has a lot of ideas about how to advance research and collaboration in this area,” says Redden.

The research team also includes FIMS PhD student Meghan Voll and from Concordia University Professor and ACT Director Kim Sawchuk, Associate ACT Director Constance Lafontaine and PhD student Francis Léveillé. The collaboration is part of a SSHRC Partnership grant Aging in Data, led by Sawchuk.

One month into her internship, Janelle appreciates the collaborative environment of working with a research team. She recognizes the diverse skills and expertise each team member brings.

“I'm learning that there are different people that you are working with who may be good at stats, some are good at navigating the library system, and some are good with interpreting certain things. You get to see different people with different interests and skills that they bring to the table, so I am excited to see and find what my strengths are in the research field.”

At the end of the 16-week term, students in the USRI program will present their research to the broader Western Campus Community through a virtual exhibition. 

Interested in conducting original research? Click here to learn more about the USRI program.