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:




How are instructors embedding applied research projects into their classes?

 Richard Menkis in History uses applied research projects 

I am fulfilling my responsibility as an educator to provide the students with a range of experiences.

Read the full interview here


Where do I even start?

If you’re new to incorporating applied research projects into your syllabus and you’d like some guidance, get in touch with the Arts Amplifier. We can help you find a suitable partner and can connect you with them, provide feedback on your syllabus, as well as support your development of assignments, descriptions, and grading rubrics.


What do I need to do beforehand?

I wanted to show the organization that a joint project would be of benefit to both the students and the organization.” – Richard Menkis about his applied research project in History

Establishing a new collaboration and determining its fit in your course syllabus might take a few weeks. Start looking for a community partner a term or two before you want to teach the applied research course and approach a few different organizations. This will provide you with more choice and you will gain a better perspective on how each of them fits within your course material.

Once you have established your collaboration partner, think about the project the students will be working on and what kind of assignments you can include in your course to connect this project to your course material and to make it a part of your course grade.


How do I find a fitting community partner?

In its best form, the applied research project establishes a clear connection between academic research and its relevance for off-campus communities and industries. If you ensure that the partner organization and the problems it is trying to solve are relevant to the course content, this connection is made more obvious to the students.

If you already are a scholar who includes community engagement in your research, you might know of organizations that work in a related field or of community efforts that require the very skills your graduate students are developing. If you are just getting started, take some time to explore local community organizations and have some open conversations with a few of them to explore the shape your applied research component could take. Richard Menkis, Professor of History at UBC, recommends, “It is important to cast a wide net in terms of possible agencies to work with.”

The Arts Amplifier has also worked successfully with a number of not-for-profits and might be able to suggest potential partners, if you reach out to us at arts.amplifier@ubc.ca.


What do I need to include in my syllabus?

Students will spend a substantial amount of time learning about the issue the community partner is trying to address, as well as creating and implementing solutions for it. The grade portion assigned to this effort needs to match the amount of time required in order for students to dedicate the necessary time.

We would recommend having at least 30% and up to 60% of the grade dedicated to the applied research component. Assignments that have a low weight distribution are often the first to be deprioritized as students juggle their course workloads with their research and other commitments. For that reason, we strongly encourage you to assign a significant portion of the grade to the applied research project as a clear signal that this is a vital component of your class.

As the applied research project progresses alongside your course, consider scaffolding the assignment by creating several graded constituents. For example, incorporate a few shorter reflections in addition to a final paper that includes a short presentation, like Karen S. Wilson’s syllabus in her graduate history course. By embedding these assignments throughout the semester, you create a sense of cohesion between the course work and the applied research project.

Our Examples and Resources section below provides you with a few sample syllabi and assignments that you can consider adapting.

Consider involving the students in the evaluation process by using peer assessments of some of the components, for example the reflections or the presentations. You can even integrate technology using the peerScholar peer-assessment and evaluation tool, which works together with Canvas for easier grading.


How much work is this?

While you need to invest the initial time in finding a collaboration partner, the supervision of your class is then split between you and the community organization because your students will spend part of their class-time working for them.

Similarly, developing assignments that fit the research project is not different from creating assignments for other classroom activities and therefore do not add more time in preparation or grading.

If you and the community organization are both clear on your expectations and duties, an applied research project is a mutually beneficial experience. As with all collaborations, clear communication is key both between you and the organization, as well as between you and your students.


What UBC student 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


Examples and Resources

Sample Syllabi

Sample Assignments


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: