If given a choice, do young children save for the future by postponing short-term gratification for longer-term reward?
Thanks to funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), fourth-year Psychology student Maria Conversano has been able to explore this question with her honours thesis supervisor, Professor of Psychology Caitlin Mahy.
NSERC, funded by the Government of Canada, is one of three agencies to offer Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA), designed to foster students’ interest in research and encourage them to undertake graduate studies in health, natural sciences and engineering, or social sciences and humanities.
The funding, valued at $6,000 plus supervisor contribution, provides 14 to 16 consecutive, full-time weeks of research work experience that complements students’ undergraduate studies in an academic setting. There are 23 total awards available in this year’s competition at Brock, with additional awards available to support self-identified Indigenous and Black student researchers.
Conversano, who was one of last year’s NSERC USRA recipients, was part of a team that tested three- to five-year-old children who visited the Ontario Science Centre last summer.
“This was a really good chance for me to get to know my own research interests and to understand what the research process looks like from beginning to end,” she says.
The children played a 15-minute board game in which they could either spend a token for a small sticker or wait to use their token to purchase a larger sticker later in the game.
The research team processed the data for a research paper that is now under review by a psychology journal and is expected to be published in the spring.
“I think it’s amazing to contribute back to the field that you’re studying and working in, and you’re helping your team reach their goals as you disseminate knowledge and share new findings,” says Conversano.
Conversano was also able to contribute to another research project with Mahy examining children’s prospective memory, which is remembering to perform a future action.
Mahy says the URSA has opened many doors for students, noting that the Award launched Conversano’s honours thesis, and gives faculty members a chance to tackle time-sensitive tasks during busy times of the academic year.
“What I like about the USRA is that because students are in the lab every day for 14 to 16 weeks, they get to see all aspects of research and really peek behind the curtain in a much more intensive way,” says Mahy.
Students and their supervisors interested in applying for an USRA are encouraged to read the Brock University Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) Guidelines 2024–2025.
At the present time, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) USRAs are exclusively for Black student researchers.
The number of NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR award allocations are determined by the federal government through its Undergraduate Student Research Awards allocations.
Students interested in applying for this opportunity must fill out the USRA Application Form Part A, while their supervisors must fill out the USRA Application Form Part B. Both students and supervisors must also complete their respective NSERC Form 202.
The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on Monday, February 26. For more information or assistance, contact USRA Liaison Officer, Tyler Weaver.