My Experiences as a Scholarship Winner

MacEng Fireball Diaries
MacEng Fireball Diaries
6 min readOct 27, 2021


Ashleigh Warren, Chemical Engineering & Society, Level 3

The Application Process

During my senior year in high school, I probably applied to over 25 different scholarships. University can be wildly expensive, and I wanted to do everything I could to alleviate some financial stress I knew I would have for my first year of schooling. After I had applied to different universities and programs, I began looking into their entrance scholarship applications and was thrilled when I found out that McMaster Engineering had only a single application required to be considered for over $1 million in entrance awards!

I completed the application process in February after I had already applied to McMaster Engineering. The application consisted of a list of extracurricular activities, academic accomplishments, volunteer and work experiences, a few short-answer questions, and letters of reference (that my teachers and coaches were more than happy to write). I can remember writing and rewriting my answers a dozen times, and making each member of my family critique my writing before I submitted it. With over $1 million in scholarships, I wanted to put my best foot forward to what might be my future school. I knew I was leaning towards an engineering program and thought that McMaster would be a great fit for me. I loved that McMaster had a general first-year program since I wasn’t sure exactly what type of engineering I would be drawn to, and was really interested in Engineering and Society and getting the opportunity to pursue a minor in sustainability. I also loved the McMaster campus and the community feeling I had when I had come for tours.

Accepting my Offer!

I was over the moon when I got my acceptance letter in March to the Engineering 1 program and saw that I had won some entrance scholarships. I had no idea what an Engineering Research Experience Award was but was thrilled that I had some money to pay for my tuition.

I quickly learned what my awards were for after reading my acceptance letter and aid and awards letter, and what an Engineering Research Experience Award entailed. As someone who had very little work experience during high school, having a guaranteed job after my first year of university was a big deal for me. I really wanted some co-op experience during my undergrad and thought this would be the perfect stepping stone to gain valuable work experience in my field of interest. Or hey, maybe I would want to pursue graduate studies afterwards! Either way, having the opportunity to do research at the most research-intensive university in Canada sounded like an amazing opportunity and one I didn’t want to pass up.

While many reasons contributed to my choice to attend McMaster for Engineering over other schools and programs, a big part was the entrance scholarships I received. Not only did I have some money to pay for my schooling, but I also knew I would have a co-op directly after my first year which could be put towards future tuition payments.

My First Summer Research Experience

I was super nervous at the thought of finding a professor to work for, but luckily for me, I made some connections during a Welcome Week event. I was introduced to Dr. Latulippe in the Department of Chemical Engineering through an upper-year student, and was extremely interested in the cutting-edge research he was conducting in his lab regarding microplastics in wastewater treatment facilities. After learning more about his lab’s work and meeting one of his Ph.D. candidates Ryan LaRue, I was offered a position in his lab for the following summer. I was so excited I might have jumped up and down in my residence room when I got that email!

Once May arrived, I was super stoked to start work, even though I was not able to do my position in person due to COVID-19 regulations. Instead of working in the lab, I had the opportunity to learn about literature search and reviews, use online tools like PipeFlo and LaTeX, and extend my knowledge of MATLAB and Excel. It was kind of a strange experience working from home in my pyjamas, but I really enjoyed the freedom of online work.

This is the setup I had for my experiments. A syringe pump filtered a solution of fluorescent microplastics through different membranes, which were then analyzed using a plate reader to determine the concentration of microplastics in the samples after filtration.

Continuing Work

I was fortunate enough to be able to continue to work part-time for Latulippe Labs during my second year, IN PERSON! I really wanted to get some hands-on lab experience and was thrilled to be able to continue my research with this lab and conduct experiments on my own. I was totally scared at first of going into the lab and running experiments but quickly got used to the procedures and equipment and learned a lot. I had a great mentor who helped me learn how to use pipettes and plate readers and perform microplastic filtration experiments which made my experience extremely rewarding.

When December rolled around, I began thinking about a job for the following summer. There was an air of uncertainty with everything due to COVID, and I thought it would be best if I could try to continue working in the lab. I was doing important, meaningful research and working with great people, what more could you want in a co-op? I applied for and won a prestigious Undergraduate Student Research Award from NSERC (Canada’s federal funding agency for university-based research) which paid a portion of my summer salary. I was able to complete another co-op with the lab and finish up the research I was conducting part-time during the school year.

Final Thoughts and Advice

I honestly can say that taking the time to apply for the entrance awards was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I know for a fact I would have been stressed to the hilt trying to find a co-op position after my first and second year, and never would have been able to experience what it is like to perform research. While I am extremely grateful for the money I won from the entrance scholarships, having the research experience award was the best thing to come out of the application. I have made great connections, improved an abundance of skills from both the in-person and virtual aspects of my work, and have a deeper appreciation for our professors and all of the research they are conducting through their labs.

To any students thinking of applying to McMaster Engineering and hoping to get a scholarship, my top pieces of advice would be:

  1. DO THE APPLICATION! Even if you don’t think you have the grades or experience to win an award, you should still 100% apply! There are hundreds of awards and amazing research opportunities at stake that are definitely worth a couple of hours of filling out the application.
  2. Get your family and friends to help! It is a great way to make sure you are putting your best foot forward and remembering all of the amazing accomplishments and activities you have participated in during high school! It never hurts to have a second or third or even tenth set of eyes checking for grammar and spelling mistakes!
  3. Ask for references early! It is a great idea to plan ahead and ask for a few different reference letters as early as possible so your employer, teacher, coach, or instructor has enough time to write one for you! I would also try to get letters from different types of people (for example one teacher and one coach), so that they can discuss your strengths from different perspectives.

If you have any questions about the scholarship application process, summer research opportunities or anything MacEng, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Ashleigh (on the right in the first photo & on the left in the second photo) with her group mates!

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MacEng Fireball Diaries
MacEng Fireball Diaries

A collection of stories and personal experiences from our incredible McMaster Engineering students.