Prospective Students - FAQs

Do you want to find out more about joining the Continuum Robotics Laboratory at the University of Toronto?
A note from Dr. Jessica Burgner-Kahrs

Thank you for taking the time to look through our website and for the interest shown in our ongoing projects. I appreciate all the thoughtful e-mails that are sent from students all over the world who would like to collaborate and pursue research at the laboratory (50 e-mails per week at times, in addition to the 1000 regular e-mails per week!). Even though I would like to respond to each one of you, I simply do not have the capacity to get back to everyone in a timely manner - if at all. Hence, I hope the general information provided above and the FAQs below answer any inquiries you may have about joining the lab.

  1. Can I join your lab as an undergraduate student?

    There are various opportunities throughout the year to join the lab as an undergraduate student. Please refer to the Undergraduates section in the main join page to learn more.

  2. I would like to join your lab as an undergraduate student, but I do not have any prior robotics experience at the undergraduate level. Can I still apply to join the lab?

    Prior experience with introductory robotics, such as through CSC376H5, is required. However, if you have had exposure to robotics fundamentals through secondary (high school) education, then that will be taken into consideration as well when you apply for the numerous undergraduate opportunities mentioned above.

  3. Will you write me a letter of recommendation to put towards my graduate school application?

    Maybe! It depends if you have a taken a course and/or completed a research project with me. If so, please e-mail me at least 6 weeks before your internal deadline and in the body of the e-mail please provide information on where you are applying, and how we know each other.

  4. I would like to join your lab as a Masters/PhD student, what are my next steps?

    Please refer to the School of Graduate Studies website for more information on the application process. You may alternatively visit the graduate units’ website listed above (under the Graduate Students section) for additional information. If you are interested in joining my lab, please indicate that on your application and contact me after you have submitted the application.

    Please note, prior experience in robotics (through coursework and research projects) is required.

  5. I am an international graduate student and would like to join your lab as a visiting graduate student, would that be possible?

    Yes, we regularly host visiting graduate students from all over the world! The process is initiated through the International Visiting Graduate Students (IVGS) program from the School of Graduate Studies at University of Toronto. If you are interested in this opportunity, please have your supervisor, or yourself contact me via e-mail about 8 to 12 months prior to your intended stay describing why you want to join my lab as a IVGS and how this would benefit your graduate studies.

    Please note, a 4-, 8- or 12-month commitment is required as well as prior experience in robotics through coursework and research projects.

  6. What does a typical day look like for a Masters/PhD student in your lab?

    Depending on the time of year and the day, it may consist of the morning in the research lab, followed by an afternoon of TA’ing a course and mentoring undergraduate students. A typical week would consist of time for your research, attending research seminars of the Robotics Institute, your coursework, our weekly lab meetings, and a one-on-one meeting with me to discuss where you are at with your research and progress. We may have visitors coming to the lab and you may be asked to present your research to them.

    In addition, below are some carefully thought-out and concise answers to your question from two of my graduate students:

    • Sven Lilge (Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science):
      Sven's experience

      There is never a dull moment at the Continuum Robotics Laboratory! Most of my time spent in the lab is allocated to pursuing my thesis research. Thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of continuum robotics, my research activities always feel fresh and exciting as they not only include theoretical investigations or algorithm development, but also prototyping new continuum robots, conducting experiments on them, and collaborating with experts from various other labs. Throughout the day, I also contribute to some of my other responsibilities such as teaching undergraduate courses, attending research seminars, and mentoring less-senior students in their projects.

      On a personal note, one of my favorite parts about our lab is definitely our team, which I consider myself very lucky to be part of. The members of our lab are incredibly intelligent and approachable, each passionate about their own area of expertise and happy to share their knowledge anytime. To me, working in our lab feels like working among friends. We often discuss research ideas, problem-solve dilemmas and even share personal experiences, be it in our weekly research meetings or casually during a coffee break. The friendship among us further translates to really fun social activities we do as a lab, such as rock climbing or grabbing dinner and drinks together.

    • Chloe Pogue (Ph.D. Candidate in Mechanical Engineering):
      Chloe's experience

      Every day is a little bit different as a grad student in the Continuum Robotics Lab, as our research work requires us to perform numerous different tasks. Some days may have a more “theoretical” focus during which we research the literature to solve challenges we face in our work, or write papers on our research, while other days may be more “applied” during which we 3D print parts we designed, build new robots, and test these robots. Additionally, every day, we get to interact with all the awesome members of the Continuum Robotics Lab. Everyone in the lab has different expertise which allows us to collaborate to achieve even greater research outcomes. Everyone is always willing to help a fellow lab mate, which creates a great, supportive working atmosphere. We have also organized many social outings with the lab members including dinners, rock climbing, and tree trekking. As grad students, we also take classes and act as course teaching assistants which allows us to expand our knowledge as well as help students succeed in their courses.

  7. What kind of advisor are you?

    The Continuum Robotics Laboratory provides an open, motivating, and friendly environment inviting students and researchers with diverse backgrounds to contribute to our research in continuum robotics. My role as an advisor and mentor relies on the following principles:

    1. Individualised supervision

      I am trying to get to know each individual undergraduate and graduate student working in my laboratory as much as I can (e.g. during lab lunches, joint business trips to conferences/collaborators, individual meetings, retreats) and to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Knowing the person allows me to provide guidance, support, and feedback.

    2. Holistic development

      I am guiding students to develop competency in research, teaching, communication, management, leadership, and interpersonal relations.

    3. Regular communications (click to expand)
      • Lab Slack: Quick and easy communication with all lab members in dedicated channels as well as all UTM robotics members.

      • Regular meetings with each student to discuss on research and general strategy. The period between meetings is individually set, depending on the student’s personality and varies from weekly to biweekly or monthly.

      • I may be busy at times, but my lab always comes first! When I am in the office and my door is open, students of CRL are welcome to stop by to chat – whether it is informal or something quick to discuss.

    4. Role model

      I am actively conveying the highest standards of ethical conduct in every aspect of research including applications, proposals, research itself, presentations, and publications. In any interaction with my students, I am aiming to be transparent about my activities, my thinking, and my decision-making processes. Through my actions I affirm the importance of intellectual humility, collegiality, honesty, diversity, and commitment to the greater good.

    A note from Sven Lilge (Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science) about my mentoring style

    In my experience, Jessica has been a great leader and caring mentor both on a professional and personal level. She gives every graduate student the liberty to pursue their own interests and research directions within the scope of our lab, while offering her expertise and guidance tailored to each student. This cultivates a sense of agency, creativity, and enhanced learning in young scientists. Jessica is also very approachable and is always available to discuss particular questions or problems, even beyond the regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings. As someone who is graduating soon, I particularly appreciate that she works with each student to identify their long-term career goals and provides all the resources necessary for success. Jessica encourages and enables her graduate students to gain experiences in activities beyond thesis research, which makes them more well-rounded and equipped candidates for careers after graduation.

  8. I recently completed my PhD in computer science/engineering with a focus on continuum robotics. What postdoctoral fellowship opportunities?

    From time to time, we may have full funding for a postdoctoral fellow available through our research grants. Those will be posted on our website. We are always happy to host postdoctoral fellowship holders. The number of fellowships you can apply for are vast!

    Some opportunities are available at the University of Toronto. General information can be found on the future postdocs section of the school of graduate studies website, with links to programmes. In the past, we hosted postdocs funded by the UTM Postdoctoral Fellowship award.

    Depending on the country you are currently, national programmes may exist that would fund your postdoctoral fellowship abroad. For example, for researchers, who are integrated into Germany’s academic research system may want to look at the Walter Benjamin fellowship which is offered through the Germany Research Foundation.

    If you are interested in applying for a fellowship, please reach out to me three to four months before the deadline with your CV, a motivational letter on why would like to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at CRL, and copies of three relevant scientific publications.

  9. I would like to learn more about Robotics at UofT! Any general resources?

    Here are some links that you may refer to for more information regarding: the UTM Robotics Cluster and the UofT Robotics Institute.

    Lastly, if you are an undergraduate student at UofT and would like to be more involved with robotics, there is the UTM Robotics Student Club, that you may join.