Students acquire valuable experience and essential skills working as Research Assistants on a research project led by Principal Investigator Mark Stoiko, Faculty of Business
At the Office of Research & Innovation (ORI), we are proud to support seasoned and emerging researchers who leave no stone unturned in their pursuance of insights, observations, and enthusiasm to positively impact change through the research projects they are leading. When we interact with the principal investigators of these projects, a common fact across the board is their appreciation and acknowledgement of the contributions of research assistants that work closely with them, besides them, supporting them along the journey of research.
What does a student research assistant do?
Depending on the scope of the research project, a research assistant has a wide range of responsibilities and roles, from collecting, interpreting and analyzing data, conducting literature reviews to supervising other students working on the project and preparing progress reports. These research assistants provide valuable support and conduct research using research methodologies, strategies and techniques as mentored by the supervising researcher. In turn, they gain hands-on work experiential learning opportunities in an academic setting. They also gain an invaluable opportunity to further develop critical skills required in today’s job market like communication and organizational skills, multitasking, problem definition and problem-solving, quickly adapting to changes and time management. Indeed a STEM to STEAMS opportunity!
Professor Mark Stoiko is leading a research project funded by the NSERC Engage grant, in partnership with NTN Bearing Corporation of Canada Limited, as Principal Investigator. On this project “Digital Transformation of Operational Processes,” Caelan and Michallia are the leading research assistants. To learn more about their experiences, we interviewed Michallia Marks and Caelan Prescott-Brown, 2021 Digital Business Management Honours graduates.
Office of Research & Innovation (ORI): How did you get involved with this research project?
Caelan Prescott-Brown (CPB): I participated in a capstone project during my final year of Digital Business Management (DIGI 4501) with NTN Corp. Ltd. At a later date, when Professor Mark sent out an email for the opportunity to join this current research project as a research assistant, I was quick to respond and gladly got accepted. This is a valuable opportunity for me to gain real-world experience and interact directly with the industry, and I hope to expand my portfolio and raise my employability chances.
“Caelan experienced valuable personal growth being a team lead in the NSERC Engage research project. He exhibited team leadership of the other research assistants and showed he was effective in building and managing client relations.” –Professor Mark Stoiko, Principal Investigator
Michallia Marks (MM): Likewise. I recently graduated with honours and participated in the same capstone project. I am highly determined, and I achieve what I set out to do. The current research assistant opportunity is extremely well-timed as I’m a recent graduate searching for a suitable job opportunity. I am assured that this will add merit to my growing portfolio and provide me with an immersive experience with the industry.
“It was gratifying to see Michallia’s motivation to learn about the digital transformation of manufacturing, and to discover how it is being applied with an industry partner, NTN Bearing Corporation of Canada. Having Michallia as a team lead in the project was a win for the industry partner and for Humber College.” –Professor Mark Stoiko, Principal Investigator
ORI: Your roles and responsibilities
CPB: Our objective is to find digital solutions to processes at NTN Corp. Ltd. The current pandemic has accelerated the need for digitization. Many organizations need the support and expertise to navigate this transition to stay current and continue to have a competitive edge. This research project will provide them with recommendations that make the most sense for NTN to push forward.
We are a team of seven research assistants in total. I am responsible for coordinating and managing my team of three other students/RAs, namely Farina Azhar, Riya Khangura, and Fatima Momin. Our team is responsible for interacting with the Engineering and Supply Chain Management departments at NTN. We have already met with the VPs of both departments, and we are assessing what is going well and what is not going so well. We are examining where they want to be. We’ve done literature reviews. We’ve collected a lot of information, including what’s trending and what’s upcoming in digital technology and whether or not it applies to this particular scenario.
MM: My team’s focus is to interact with the Manufacturing department at NTN on the digitalization of processes and procedures. Since my capstone project was in the same field, it was a perfect transition. I am responsible for coordinating and managing my team of two other students/RAs,namely Jessica Ryan and Husam Himmat. We have already met with the VP of Manufacturing at NTN and gathered information on where they are in terms of technology and how they want to digitize the department. We are trying to dig deeper to understand their pain points and recommend solutions. We have done a lot of literature reviews already. I love reading, so it is a win-win situation for me. I am learning a lot!
ORI: What hurdles have you overcome? Any “Aha!” moments?
CPB: During initial conversations with department heads, I realized I wasn’t well prepared. I developed a timely understanding of reviewing and preparing before important meetings. Managing my time well was another learning curve. The biggest hurdle for me personally was when I realized that the heads of the departments did not really like surveys, for example. I had to learn to pivot quickly and adapt to their requirements.
My “Aha!” moment would be to realize that though I consider myself an introvert, I can now confidently interact with my peers, lead research investigators, and industry partners.
A message to students:
“Encourage yourself to participate in research and push yourself out of your comfort zone because that is the only way you will really learn and get better. Research is the best way to get hands-on experience. Through research, you will find out what you want to or do not want to do and what you understand and do not understand. You can then work on acquiring those skills.”—Caelan Prescott-Brown
MM: Before diving into this research project, I have to be honest that I didn’t fully understand the depth and breadth of digital technology. It’s been a great learning experience. I can confidently share that I have found my calling, and I cannot wait to learn and build a promising career in this field.
My biggest “Aha!” moment, I would say, is recognizing the breadth of technology out there and where it’s going. I now know that I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface until I got involved in this research project. As a result, I now have more profound foundational knowledge about this stream, and I have truly found my passion.
A message to students:
“With research, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You get to learn, and you get paid to do it. The skills and competencies you gain while working on a research project will take you far. The information will never go to waste. It will look great on your portfolio. You will learn to interact with real-life situations and solve real-world problems with the industry. It’s an invaluable experience!” —Michallia Marks
ORI: Why Research? What does it mean to you?
CPB: This research opportunity might not have materialized for me if I had been employed full-time. However, I grabbed on to it as it was the right time, and I was at the right place at Humber College to gain real-world experience through research. Research accords excellent experience, it looks great on your resume, and you develop transferrable skills along the way, so it’s beneficial in the long term as well.
I’ve gained tremendous exposure and really polished my soft skills, especially communication skills and listening. In my previous experiences, I’ve mostly been an observer, but through this research opportunity, I’ve had to lead a team and interact with key industry partners.
“Digital transformation is important for the future of any business. Through working on this research project, I was able to get more of an understanding on what potential digital transformation methods are coming up and how they will affect how businesses run. There’s so much opportunity for transformation in business processes today that could help not only financially but environmentally as well.” —Caelan Prescott-Brown
MM: Research affords you the chance to get better at what you know, and you get paid to learn! What’s not to love about it? We couldn’t agree more!
Working on this project has proven to me that digitalization is here to stay — this is the future. As a result, the demand for skills and competencies in this area is growing, and I’m thrilled to be gaining experience. I’ve learned to manage my time well, set agendas, achieve expected results in meetings with professionals, listen keenly to understand the industry partners’ needs, ensure that our discussions focus on critical priorities, and ask the right questions. I had to dig deep into understanding what was being discussed, and I’m confident that I can hold a well-informed discussion on this topic today.
”The best remedy for ignorance is education. Yes, I was a bit scared to lead a team on a topic that I was not very familiar about, but I decided to say “yes” and proceeded to educate myself as best as possible.” —Michallia Marks
Caelan and Michallia were quick to acknowledge their unwavering gratefulness and thanks to Professor Mark Stoiko. “He is great. He encourages us to keep going and always looks ahead. He believes in us, and that gives us confidence,” says Caelan. Michallia remarks, “He doesn’t micromanage at all. He is always available for any queries. He ensures we are clear on what we’re supposed to do and what’s expected of us. He’s really easy to work with.”
We wish Caelan and Michallia the very best in their future endeavours, and we are assured that this is just the beginning of their research and innovation journey!
We want to hear from you, dear students. How has a project, research, or investigation propelled and prompted you to develop your technical and soft skills and competencies, including communications, critical thinking, and problem-solving? You are a researcher and an innovator, and we want you to share your story with us. Reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org, and please state EVERYDAY INNOVATORS in the subject line.
We acknowledge the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
Nous remercions le Conseil de recherches en sciences naturelles et en génie du Canada (CRSNG) de son soutien.