Architecture student sees perks of being a researcher
July 30, 2012
Nicholas Jones is learning a lot about the history of Toronto and it’s affecting his future.
The architectural science student is working with professor Cheryl Atkinson on A History of Public Spaces in Toronto, a project that examines the evolution of public space in Toronto. It’s part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities (URO) Scholars program and allows students to spend 12 weeks assisting professors in their research endeavours. Students gain practical skills and knowledge in a field of study that interests them while acquiring experience in a research setting.
Unlike many URO scholars who join a project that is already underway, Jones helped Atkinson create the research idea of investigating public spaces. “It’s something I had a fair amount of input into and Cheryl is very supportive in allowing ideas to be explored,” Jones said.
Through this project, Jones has become acquainted with historical maps and now appreciates the inaccurate details they sometimes depict. Studying diagrams and archival maps have enabled him to graphically chart how the city has developed since the late 18th century. The study looks to explain how Toronto’s urban changes over the years have influenced current land development decisions and opportunities.
This was Jones’ first time collaborating one-on-one with a professor.
“I was unsure of the dynamics, but learned how informal it can be and the relationship has evolved beyond professor and student,” he said. “Cheryl has become more of a mentor.”
Jones hopes to extend his work beyond the URO program by possibly writing a paper with Atkinson to present at a conference. The program has also given Jones further motivation to pursue graduate studies. .
Even though there were challenges, there were perks too. Jones enjoyed setting his own pace. During the school year, students are bombarded with a lot of work that has to be done in a short period of time. As a URO scholar, Jones has a flexible schedule, works independently and takes his time producing work that is accurate and well developed. Plus, he gets to see first-hand how research unfolds.
Jones’ final report is due mid-August and despite feeling anxious in the beginning, nerves have kept him on his toes during the program.
“It’s important to have that uncertainty,” he said. “It keeps your work honest and forces you to not be afraid to admit that something has to change and that you won’t always be committed to an idea.”