Jackman Scholars-in-Residence: “Virtual SiR 2020” and a Look Ahead to 2021

Submitted by Sonja Johnston on Fri, 10/16/2020 - 15:06

By Professor Angela Esterhammer, Director, Scholars-in-Residence

From May 4 to 29, the 2020 Jackman Scholars-in-Residence program took place in an online-only format. As with most other university activities, the pivot to a virtual SiR program happened quickly; the COVID crisis overtook us when projects had already been planned and students accepted for the usual in-person research residency. Fortunately, 17 research projects were able to move online, as were many of the full-group activities such as panel discussions and research roundtables. Eighty-five undergraduate students participated in faculty-led team research and in programs of activities facilitated by staff at UTM, UTSC, and St George campuses. As always, research results presented by the student teams at the final forum on May 29 showed high levels of excellence and creativity, not to mention newly acquired virtual-communication skills.

In May 2020, the Scholars-in-Residence program was also awarded the University of Toronto Alumni Association’s Northrop Frye Award, which recognized the program’s significant enhancement of student experience through an innovative approach to combining research and experiential learning. Thanks to the flexibility and goodwill shown by everyone involved, the benefits of the SiR model remained evident in this year’s necessarily online version. The format also provided thought-provoking examples of how online sessions could increase the accessibility and international reach of SiR projects and community-building activities.

Left to right: Michael Lettieri, Ira Wells, Angela Esterhammer, Alison Keith, Mark Schmuckler and Robert Gibbs. Photo by Diana Tyszko


SiR 2020 was very highly rated by participating students and faculty in post-program surveys and reports. Nevertheless, student feedback also showed that this year’s Scholars missed the interaction across research groups that is usually generated by sharing residence, meals, excursions, and other in-person activities. Given the uniqueness of Scholars-in-Residence as a residential research experience, we are hoping and planning for an in-person SiR program in May 2021, while being prepared to offer a mix of in-person and online research activities depending on how the public health situation evolves.

Since its inception in 2016, Scholars-in-Residence has nurtured a close-knit, multidisciplinary, intergenerational community of researchers. The program offers distinctive benefits to faculty as well as students. SiR provides 5 outstanding paid RAs to work on each supervisor’s project for the 4 weeks of the program. In addition, SiR supervisors receive $2,000 in research funds from the JHI to support the activities of their research teams. SiR handles the student application process centrally and supervisors select their research teams with the guidance of the Advisory Committee. Faculty consistently report positive experiences of participating in the program and are frequently astounded by the results achieved by their undergraduate RAs.

The deadline for faculty proposals of projects for SiR 2021 is Wednesday, November 25, 2020. Visit our Call for Proposals application page.