York hosts Mitacs Globalink Research Internship students

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By Elaine Smith

Each summer, research organization Mitacs’s competitive Globalink Research Internship (GRI) brings international undergraduate research talent to Canada for its 12-week program under the supervision of academics in various fields. This year, York University hosted one of the largest GRI cohorts to date.

Mitacs is a not-for-profit national research organization that, in partnership with Canadian academia, private industry and government, operates research and training programs in fields related to industrial and social innovation.

Students who come to York – which has participated since 2011 – apply for specific research projects and are chosen by faculty members at York University eager to work with promising young researchers. The GRI students work under the International Visiting Research Trainee (IVRT) program, overseen by York International and available to any York faculty member wishing to host a student researcher from abroad.

“It’s a win-win opportunity,” says Rachel Sung, Mitacs senior advisor, business development. “Through Mitacs, students gain excellent research experience and receive a stipend to support themselves while in Canada, and the faculty obtain talented, eager research assistance at no cost to them.”

This year, the University is hosting more than 50 GRI students, one of the largest cohorts to date. The students hail from 11 different countries and are working with 25 York professors from six Faculties and two schools. The projects they are participating in include: writing software to enable a robot to conduct long-duration autonomous tasks on the water; exploring the possibility of applying artificial intelligence, machine learning and graphic information system technology to climate change research, extreme weather analysis and data visualization; and creating a digital database and research website of biographical accounts of individuals born in Africa from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Professor El Morr with GRI interns
Professor El Morr with GRI interns Bhawna Kumari and Nidhi Goyal

Christo El Morr, an associate professor of health informatics who is working with two Mitacs interns – Bhawna Kumari and Nidhi Goyal from the India Institute of Technology, Kharagpur – praises the benefits of the program.

“I have a problem to solve and Mitacs gives me access to people to work with on it,” says El Morr, who is looking at data about the impacts of COVID-19 on health-care workers to determine which factors can predict their perceived mental health and life stress. “Beyond working with data, they are also learning how to write, present and publish. It’s an enjoyable experience for me, too, because I like teaching and mentoring.”

Rosa McDonnell
Rosa McDonnell

Another example is Rosa McDonnell, an anthropology major at the University of Manchester in England, who is interning with Jessica Vorstermans, an assistant professor in the Critical Disability Studies program in the Faculty of Health.

Vorstermans is exploring L’Arche, the international federation of non-profit organizations that supports communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together, looking at how the organization coped with the unsavoury revelations about its founder and how it is finding its way forward in the aftermath.

For some, the GRI also helps showcase Canada and the study, research and career opportunities available here. For example, a former intern named Jiayin Chen came from China for her Mitacs internship at York in 2019 and fell in love with Toronto. After the pandemic, she returned to earn a master’s degree in biostatistics and currently works here as a data analyst for Thermo Fisher Scientific, a pharmaceutical company.

“Being at York changed my whole direction,” she says. “I originally wanted to study in the United Kingdom, but I decided I loved Toronto and have applied for my permanent residency.”

Woo Kim, director of international and student scholar services for York International, lauded Mitacs: “York University’s participation in Mitacs GRI is consistent with the University’s new Internationalization and Global Engagement Strategy, and it also helps promote York as a research and graduate studies destination for international students.”

Mitacs Celebration
Mitacs faculty and interns at York

Mitacs offers a variety of research opportunities for students and faculty. For more information, contact Rachel Sung, sungr@yorku.ca.