In-Class Applied Research Projects


Help students apply their research skills to new contexts

In an applied research project, you design your course with a project or assignment component that involves students working with an off-campus partner. For example, perhaps the off-campus partner is an arts organization that needs to develop a framework for their next grant application, or maybe it’s a not-for-profit that wants to share its history, or it’s a service provider that needs an environmental scan to identify potential gaps. Your students will tackle this problem for the community partner by relying on their degree skills and the framework provided by your class and thereby experience how your course applies to problems beyond the university.

Including an applied research project in a course means getting a community or industry partner involved in it and thereby allows “students to engage in research that occurs primarily in workplaces while relating directly to their academic requirements. Such a collaboration brings the course concepts to life through their real-world context.”

Courses that include a community or industry component “are a ‘win-win’ because they enrich the student learning experience while contributing to their course credit, and the community partners receive tangible work and recommendations to implement within their organization.” – CEWIL Canada


Benefits and Outcomes:


Where to Begin?

How are instructors embedding applied research projects into their classes? Find out more!


Examples and Resources

See some sample syllabi and assignments here!


What UBC students say

Check out this interview from UBC’s Spring Institute 2022 to hear about the experiences from one of the students who participated in an in-class applied research project. In the interview, the graduate student and the professor field questions about mutual benefits, successful collaborations, career exploration, and the relevance of public engagement for the academic discipline.

Passcode: m&p#Y6vK


Troubleshooting: Strategies for Success

Applied research projects allow students to leverage skills that they acquired in their degree programs in a completely new context. Many Arts students are unclear how their degree relates to a non-academic job; applied research projects that are embedded in a university course provide students with an understanding of how to frame their experience and knowledge in terms that are relevant for community and industry partners.

Graduate students in the Arts are used to identifying knowledge gaps and to work independently on closing them. An applied research project presents students with an unfamiliar situation, in which someone else provides them with a problem they need to solve. This can cause feelings of anxiety in the student. The following strategies set your in-class applied research project up for success:

Make time for an open conversation at the beginning of the course. You might want to focus on the following things:

  • Working with a community partner enriches the students' professional network
  • For students who are seeking a job outside of academia, an applied research project is a low-risk way to explore a potential industry
  • For students who are planning an academic career, community engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration can form a vital contribution to their CV
  • Applying their research skills to a problem that community organizations or industry partners are trying to solve enhances the students’ understanding of how their scholarship intersects with actual challenges that people and communities are struggling with.
  • Working with an employer is an opportunity for students to present themselves as emerging professionals in the workplace and to perform as they would on their first job within a new team at an unfamiliar company

For many students, this work environment and form of problem-solving is going to be new. Applied research shifts the students’ approach from their own research interests to the needs of the partner organization.  Providing moments for feedback and taking time for check-ins can be an invaluable tool to perform early trouble-shooting–when and if needed–and to ensure that the applied research project is a confidence-building experience for students.

Here are a few ways in which you can support students effectively:

  • Have an initial conversation in class about everyone’s expectations and concerns
  • Hold a mid-point check-in in which students have the opportunity to express frustrations or challenges and support them by providing resources or facilitating conversations
  • Have students fill out a pre-survey in which they assess their skills
  • Have students fill out an exit-survey to reflect on their experiences and learning process. Surveys like these provide great learning opportunities.

If you’re collecting feedback from your students on their experiences during or after the project, consider extending the same interest to the community partner. Learning what worked well for them will help you improve further applied research projects with the same or other partners.

You can find examples to help you in our Examples and Resources section above.

Applied research projects are a growth opportunity for your students. Providing them with the space and the framework to reflect on their experiences allows students to recognize what they’ve learned from the experience.

Different models of reflection exist, but most of them share the idea of reflection as a 3-step process. In step 1, students are asked to describe the situation. In step 2, they think about what that situation meant to them–for example, a challenge that they identified, a struggle with particular emotions, a connection they established between their research and this moment, etc. Step 3 asks the students to envision the takeaway from this situation: what will this mean for them going forward? What did they learn from this? Why does it matter?

Embedding reflection into the fabric of your course throughout the semester lets students compare their thinking from the start of the term to the end of it. If you give students a reflective assignment at the beginning and another one at the end of the course, students can think not only about what they learned but also how their thinking shifted. One way of doing this is using a pre- and post-survey that covers students’ expectations, a rating of their skills, or perceived strengths and weaknesses. You can find an example of such surveys in our Examples and Resources section above.

Reflections can also be useful to facilitate collaborative work, as they encourage students to think about their own contributions and professional behavior, as well as what they find challenging and why.

Assessing reflections does not need to be complicated–a simple rubric, such as the one offered by the University of Guelph, might prove sufficient for smaller reflective assignments.


Here are examples of reflection frameworks: