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Research FAQs

What are these QQs or Thesis’ I’ve been hearing about?

A QQ and a thesis are two independent research courses that the PNB department offers. A QQ is a semester-long research placement with an approved professor within the PNB department. This placement counts as a 3 credit course, however you are responsible for finding your own supervisor and making arrangements for the semester. A thesis is also a research placement with any professor that is currently working at McMaster University. PNB students have the option of choosing between a 9 credit thesis or a 6 credit thesis, where the student will be conducting research for the duration of a full school year. A thesis requires higher expectations and time commitment compared to a QQ and also requires students to find their own supervisors.

When do I need to start applying? 

The first week of March is when the ballot system is open so this is the ideal time to start applying for research opportunities, either QQ3 or thesis, but you can also contact supervisors before March. The sooner you contact supervisors the higher your chances are of getting a research opportunity. There is also a chance to obtain a research position after the ballot closes, but in these cases you have to send an email to Jennifer Nettleton (  to organize this as soon as you can.

What’s the best way to get in touch with a lab?

The best way to get in touch with a lab is to email the professor, who would be the head of the lab, or you email a lab manager about how to get involved in the lab. If you want to find out more information about what it’s like to work in the lab email graduate and/or undergraduate students who have previously (or are currently) working in said lab.

Do I have to come up with my own research project? Or will a prof assign me to one?

For both thesis and QQ3 courses students typically work on a project under a masters or PhD student who would already have a research study ongoing. There are a few rare cases where undergraduate students are able to come up with their own research projects but it’s not common.

What’s the ballot system? And how do I get my application to stand out?

The ballot system is McMaster’s way of matching all the professors and students interested in research together. As a student, when you complete your ballot you’re responsible for ranking the professors you’ve applied to in order of preference. The professors also rank their applicants and the ballot attempts to make the best match possible. The optimal way to stand out from other applications would be to have a prior relationship with the professor or one of their grad students. That way, you’re not just another name on a list.

Is there a difference between PNB 4D09/06? And how are the credits split across semesters?

The PNB 4D09/06 courses are two thesis courses offered in the PNB department. The PNB 4D09 course is worth 9 units and is split across the fall and winter semesters. Thesis students enrolled in 4D09 can choose how to distribute their 9 units across the semesters (3 units in the Fall and 6 units in the Winter is one example). In 4D06 your units are spread out evenly throughout the length of your thesis (3 units in the Fall and 3 units in the Winter). It is also possible, but not very common, for students to use their 6 units for one semester instead. You would have to organize this with your supervisor. 

What happens if I don’t get a Thesis?

A thesis typically is a larger commitment for the professor and so if you don’t get one don’t worry! There are still many ways to obtain research experience. In lieu of a fourth-year thesis, you can do a 4QQ Senior Research Project, a 4QM which is a Library Study, or 4SC6 the Science communication course. You just need to ensure that if you do not obtain a thesis, you are still fulfilling your fourth-year PNB requirements to graduate which are six units from the capstone course list and one psychology course.  If you don’t obtain a thesis but still want research experience, you can still inquire about the third-year lab courses available to all 3rd year and above PNB students. They’re a fantastic way to still get a feel for the research environment. 

What will I actually do during my thesis? Can my research get published?

The type of research you’ll be doing in either a thesis or a QQ varies widely between the different fields in PNB and the professor you’re working with. You may be working directly with subjects, manipulating previously collected data, or creating resources for conferences. However, broadly you’ll be expected to form a research proposal, collect the data (or perform the literature review) necessary for proving/disproving your hypothesis, create a scientific paper explaining your results, and finally create a poster presentation about your research. If the project is complete, the results are significant, and the paper makes it past the peer-review stage then you may even be credited as an author for the work you did. 

How does research work if I’m in the Mental Health specialization? Is it guaranteed?

For students in the Mental Health Specialization, it is the same process for applying to QQ/lab positions. You will apply through the PNB Ballot system, where you will basically rank the supervisors you would like to work with. However, it is a very very good idea to look into some of these supervisors before hand, read some of their work, and contact them (via their preferred method) about the possibility of being a QQ student in their lab. Some supervisors really prefer it if you’ve talked to them before filling out the ballot. However, for the Mental Health Program specifically, you also have the option to enroll in a PNB 3QM3, which is the same course as PNB 3QQ3, but the labs that you can apply to focus on mental health research. I believe PNB 3QM3 is for those in the Mental Health Specialization and there is a list of supervisors that you can apply to for the 3QM3 course. Also, speaking from experience, Mental Health students are not necessarily guaranteed positions. It all depends on a supervisor’s availability (openings in their lab) and many other factors. 

How does research work if I’m in the Human Behaviour specialization?

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Human behaviour students have the option to do an inquiry project, senior inquiry project, or seminar courses, but they do not currently have a thesis or QQ option.

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