Advice from Past & Current Honours Students

Most of the students did their Honours projects in U3. Some did it in U2, and one did it as early as the summer after U1.

N.B.: All of the advice has been reworded and summarized.


What problems did you encounter during your Honours project?

–  I decided to do Honours very late and got approval on the latest possible date. It also made it tougher to find a supervisor.

– Starting to look for a supervisor was overwhelming. I didn’t know how to start.

– I had to contact the MSE (School of Environment) for a lot of information that the website didn’t have.

– It was difficult in terms of a budget. I couldn’t do some things I wanted to do because there was no budget assigned for Honours students.

– I did it in the summer and it was difficult to finish in 4 months, so I took an extension.

– I had to learn some unintuitive software for my project and I was too shy to ask for help at the beginning.

– It was difficult to coordinate communication with supervisors as my project involved getting data from another country.

– I was bad with time management and found it hard to maintain motivation.


What did you enjoy about your Honours experience?

– It was a great way to get a feel for research and grad school.

– My supervisor had lab meetings and it helped me interact with PhD students and researchers. I enjoyed the inclusion in graduate school activities and I learned a lot about research (including managerial aspect, such as grants).

– I like that I am involved in all aspects of the project, from the testing to the analyses to the writing.

– I enjoyed the freedom to explore the aspects of my major (Cognitive Science) that I enjoyed.

– I enjoyed presenting a poster at the end of my project. It made me feel like the project was my own and was a great way to complete the entire process.


Do you have any advice for future students?

– If you’ve never done research before, don’t worry! It’s very possible to start with an Honours project. Just put in 110% of your effort.

– Be prepared to read papers. A lot.

– Email supervisors early, around a semester in advance.

– While most students aren’t exactly sure of what they want to do, if you go to a supervisor with an idea, you’ll get a lot more from the experience. Don’t be afraid to come up with your own idea. It’s much nicer to be mentored, not supervised.

– Talk to as many potential supervisors as possible. You’ll be spending a significant amount of time on this – decide what you’re interested in.

– Assess a supervisor based on his/her personality as well as research. Are they creating an community-like atmosphere in the lab? Are they too laidback? Are they too strict? Are they approachable? Bear in mind you might be working with a graduate student, so assess them similarly.

– Meet several times with your supervisor. Get to know them. It will help you in your relationship with him/her.

– Take a statistics course! Just do it! If you’re in Psychology, knowing SPSS and ANOVA and all that stuff is so helpful. Your supervisor will probably expect you to understand it.

– You probably won’t be published. Don’t try to necessarily find something groundbreaking. It’s great if you do, but be honest, humble, and pragmatic. You don’t need to get a Science journal article out of the project. The Honours project is meant to help you explore a field, not revolutionize it completely. (But if you do get findings, then try to publish a paper!)

– Go to poster sessions to see other students’ research projects. It can give you a good idea of the numerous options you have and how it all works. You can also talk to students and learn from their experiences.

– I’m doing a poster, not a thesis, as per my supervisor’s encouragements. Explore different options of grading with your supervisor.

– Make a weekly schedule! It can be difficult to put in sufficient and regular hours into your project since there is usually a lot of self-initiative.

– Try to be involved in your supervisor’s activities and lab. Working from home can be difficult. Forming a connection with your supervisor’s work is crucial. Be professional and try to be insistent in being involved!

– Ask questions! Don’t be shy. Take notes if your supervisor/PhD student teaches you something, as it can be embarrassing to ask again and again.

– If you are working with participants/patients, call them the day before to ensure that they’re coming. Otherwise you’ll end up wasting a lot of time being stood up.

– Be clear and insistent in what you want and need from your supervisor. Take initiative and request things clearly.

– Plan to start early and then start before that. You don’t want to have to write a 20 page thesis from scratch during exam time.

– Read literature reviews at the beginning of your project. It makes all the difference and helps a lot.

– Be organised! Keep a document with notes on all the papers you read.

– Use the library for your thesis! Request books if McGill doesn’t have and use the interlibrary loan.

– Google Honours theses for your specific field. It can give you a general idea. Personally, as a Psychology/CogSci student, I used Harvard University’s Psychology page. (My supervisor wasn’t very specific or strict.)


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