University of Calgary

Awards fuel undergrad research

learning curves

michael shier

shierAwards fuel undergrad’s social work research


By Lynne Dulaney-MacNicol

Take one bright undergrad student. Add as mentor, a social work professor with an intense research agenda. Mix with a creative research topic. Garnish with $18,000 of research funding. Serve with kudos.

That’s the recipe for award-winning student research used by Micheal Shier.

Just completing his third year of the Bachelor of Social Work program, Shier has received four substantial awards in the last year, a significant achievement for any undergraduate.

Three of his four awards come from the University of Calgary, including an Undergraduate Research Award (URA), a Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) award, and an Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) scholarship in health and wellness. Additionally, Shier received a Health Professional Student Research award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Three of Shier’s four awards have supported his experiential learning project which examines the academic and professional credentials of senior public servants in provincial and federal government departments relating to health and social services, such as health and wellness and health promotion, and income security and child welfare departments.

“This is the first study of its kind,” says Shier, who will be sending out 1,000 questionnaires this summer to 14 governments across Canada. “Over the past decade, politicians have been putting more emphasis on the actions of public service employees and have shifted the responsibilities these employees are perceived to have. I’m investigating specific details of public employees’ backgrounds to examine the similarities between them. The result will provide baseline data about those who are responsible, at the policy level, for the health and well-being of Canadians.”

Shier is also completing a journal article-length manuscript that documents processes and potential barriers of conducting research with public service employees as participants.

Shier’s PURE award was given in conjunction with People and Place, an ongoing initiative between the faculties of Social Work and Environmental Design. That study will analyze research findings relating to Calgary’s urban re-development and homeless shelter design.

Shier works alongside his faculty mentor, Dr. John Graham, a professor in the Faculty of Social Work and the Murray Fraser Professor of Community Economic Development.

“Mike is one of the best students I’ve known in my 15-year career, and certainly among the top five I’ve taught at the undergraduate level,” says Graham. “He implicitly understands the creative and resonant nature of scholarship, and is also a very energetic, clear-thinking and hard-working person. He is making a most important impact on his discipline.”

What has Shier learned from the experience? “The past year has taught me that research cannot be constrained by rigid or inflexible research designs,” he says. “Unexpected things arise during a program of research, particularly when it involves human subjects, and these are often the most important to dissemination and knowledge building.”