Inspire Summer Studentships – Call for applications

The Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium (EPIC) is strongly committed to building a diverse and inclusive infectious disease research community. We recognize that diversity strengthens the quality and impact of research by bringing multiple ideas and perspectives. 

The EPIC Inspire Summer Studentships will foster inclusive excellence by providing third-year Black and Indigenous undergraduate students with opportunities to engage in infectious disease research with and receive mentorship from EPIC’s faculty members. These awards aim to support Black and Indigenous students who are interested in infectious diseases and to create a more diverse talent pool for the next generation of infectious disease research leaders. Applicants will have an opportunity to continue their studentship research as a fourth-year thesis project if both the student and supervisor are in agreement.

We welcome applications from eligible students who are interested in infectious disease research. Applicants will be asked to select their top three research projects from the projects listed below. EPIC will help match interested students with an EPIC faculty member for the summer studentship.


  • Registered (at the time of application) as a full-time student in a bachelor’s degree program, excluding professional undergraduate degree programs (MD, DDS, BScN, PharmD, etc…), at a Canadian university 
  • Canadian citizen, permanent resident of Canada, or an international student with a valid student visa for the full summer term 
  • Will have completed their third year of an undergraduate program by April 2024 
  • Self-identify as Black or Indigenous 
  • Intend to re-register for full-time undergraduate studies in September 2024
  • Available to work full-time for 12 to 16 weeks between May 1 to August 31, 2024 

Priority will be given to applicants who have not previously received an Inspire Summer Studentship and/or who do not hold other similar awards (ie. NSERC Undergraduate Summer Research Awards or University of Toronto Excellence Award or Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) at the time of application. 

    Value and Duration

    The EPIC Inspire Summer Studentship will provide $7,500, paid to the supervisor, to support the payroll for the summer student for a 12- to 16-week term. The supervisor may supplement this award to increase the support level and/or extend the work term if desired. Inspire Summer Studentships are non-renewable. Recipients will have priority access to EPIC workshops, networking events and training courses for one year following the receipt of their studentship. 

    We anticipate supporting six Inspire Summer Studentships in 2024.

    Awardee Responsibilities

    Recipients must fulfill the academic requirements of their degree program and plan of study. Recipients will gain a core set of interrogative skills in the area of infectious disease through their research, coursework and/or attendance and participation at EPIC trainee events and programs. Recipients must also complete a survey at the end of their summer studentship and are required to acknowledge EPIC funding in publications, presentations and communications resulting from their award. 

    Selection Criteria

    Applications for the EPIC Inspire Summer Studentships will be evaluated based on the following criteria for eligible trainees: 

    • Research potential 
    • Academic merit 

    Project selection

    The following projects are available to applicants as part of the 2024 Inspire Summer Studentship program. Please review the project details before you apply. You will be asked to provide your top three project selections during the application process. EPIC will make our best effort to match successful applicants with a project from their top three choices.

    Characterizing antibody levels to respiratory viruses to assess host immune response
    Supervisor name Anne-Claude Gingras
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute
    Project description Serology assays that measure antibody response to COVID-19 or other respiratory viruses are key to assessing the durability of the immune response, estimating seroprevalence, and measuring vaccine response in healthy and vulnerable populations. The Gingras laboratory has developed high-throughput antibody detection and neutralization assays for COVID-19. Working as part of a team, the student will continue to develop and apply these assays to new variants and in response to different vaccine regimens. The student will also be involved in developing similar assays for other respiratory viruses including the development of multiplexed screens for comprehensive testing of past infections.
    Skills development Measuring antibody response to infection or vaccination, lentiviral-based viral neutralization assays, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs), automated high-throughput screening, novel assay development
    Characterizing bacteria from the human vaginal microbiota
    Supervisor name William Navarre
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description

    Unlike the gut, the healthy human vaginal tract is colonized by a small set of bacteria (primarily lactobacilli).  The vaginal microbiota can influence susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and reproductive health.  Our lab is cultivating bacteria from clinical samples to better understand how some microbiota promote health whereas others promote inflammation or increase the likelihood of disease.  We will sequence bacterial genomes and measure their ability to compete with pathogens.

    Skills development

    Bioinformatics, anaerobic cultivation, genome sequencing, high-throughput assays

    Characterizing salmon pathogen community composition around salmon farms in coastal British Columbia
    Supervisor name Martin Krkosek
    Faculty Faculty of Arts and Science
    Work arrangement Hybrid
    Work location U of T, St. George campus or Salmon Coast Field Station in British Columbia
    Project description The west coast of Vancouver Island (B.C.) is a hotspot for open net pen salmon aquaculture, an industry that has demonstrated impacts on wild salmon health through disease spillover from farmed to wild fish. However, the spatial-temporal patterns of pathogen communities are still
    unknown. In this project, we will survey pathogen environmental DNA from active salmon farms and control sites in five oceanic sounds on the west coast of Vancouver Island. These data will then be used to create a conceptual framework for estimating the relative risk of infectious agent transmission posed by farms under different management regimes and environmental conditions.
    Skills development DNA extraction and quantification, project design, field research from boats, statistical analysis and plotting in R, scientific writing
    Discover an ultra-diverged RNA virus infecting the human brain
    Supervisor name Artem Babaian
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description

    Data-driven virus discovery is revolutionizing our understanding of virology across Earth’s biosphere. In 2020 there were 15,000 known RNA viruses, since then our lab has discovered more new species (currently 375,000+) than everyone else in the world combined, including so called “Dark RNA Viruses”.

    Our lab explores the evolution, ecology, and molecular interactions of these viruses through state-of-the-art computational analyse. Our focus is on how these viruses intersect human health and disease. Currently we’re searching for viruses which cause neurodegenerative disease (i.e. Alzheimer’s) and human cancers. By finding these causal agents, it creates the possibility of developing an Alzheimer vaccine, or cancer vaccine.

    Skills development Computational biology/bioinformatics, phylogenetics and sequence homology detection, virus genome annotation and interpretation, artificial intelligence and machine-learning
    Digital tools in gender-based violence response in Canada: a post pandemic analysis
    Supervisor name Beverley Essue
    Faculty Dalla Lana School of Public Health
    Work arrangement Remote
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic amplified cases of gender-based violence (GBV) globally, with women disproportionately affected. With the stay-at-home mandates, the detrimental impacts of GBV on women continued to escalate, underscoring the urgent need for a more robust response to GBV. As a result, formal care and support increasingly relied on digital and technological intervention tools. Despite digital tools, GBV rates intensified during the pandemic, exposing shortcomings, and underscoring the need for stronger interventions. Building on the post-COVID-19 recovery agenda and the ‘build back better’ initiative, it is crucial to assess the strengths and weaknesses of these digital interventions. This project aims to critically analyze Canadian digital interventions adopted to address GBV during the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on their strengths and weaknesses.
    Skills development The student will learn to conduct a scoping review guided by the Arksey-O’Malley 5 stages of scoping reviews. The student will also learn to analyze data thematically and generate themes relevant to the research questions.
    The student will also learn to develop a narrative summary to present findings.
    Effect of immunosuppressive therapies on avidity of antibodies induced by viruses or vaccines
    Supervisor name Tania Watts
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description Our lab has been studying immunity to SARS-CoV-2 induced by mRNA vaccines in patients treated with immunosuppressive agents for chronic conditions. Using plasma from the patients, you will analyze antibody avidity using a modified ELISA assay. Depending on where we are in the project, you may work on antibodies specific for SARS-CoV-2, measles or varicella.
    Skills development ELISA assay, data analysis, possibility of participating in other immune assays, including flow cytometry.
    Engineering bacterial surface protein antigens
    Supervisor name Trevor Moraes
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement Hybrid
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description Bacterial Surface Lipoproteins (SLPs) attached to the outer membrane of Gram negative bacterial pathogens have been shown to enhance bacterial survival during infection as they play important roles in immune evasion and nutrient acquisition. Thus, SLPs have been used as subunit based vaccine antigens. To enhance the properties of these antigens we will examine the structure and function of these surface proteins. Students will use a variety of biochemical and structural biology methods together with functional assays to assess the role of these proteins.
    Skills development Protein purification, structure prediction, structure biology, biomolecular interactions (kinetics of binding)
    Evaluating the anatomical localization of SARS-CoV-2-specific plasma cells and memory B cells
    Supervisor name Jennifer Gommerman
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description We now know that COVID-19 patients have IgA antibodies in their saliva, and in some patients, the secretory chain is associated with these antibodies, indicating local residence of SARS-CoV-2-specific plasma cells within the oral cavity. However, we do not understand the trafficking dynamics of these cells or memory B cells generated through infection or vaccination. This project involves characterizing inactivated serum, saliva, and tissue samples from mice that have either been 1) infected with SARS-CoV-2 or 2) vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 using ELISA, immunofluorescence, or flow cytometry. It also involves using qPCR to determine whether experimental mice were infected by SARS-CoV-2.
    Skills development ELISA, flow cytometry, qPCR, immunofluorescence
    Exploring novel strategies to control virus replication
    Supervisor name Alan Cochrane
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description RNA processing plays a central role in the replication of multiple viruses including HIV-1. Recent studies by our group have identified several small molecule modulators of host RNA processing factors that are potent inhibitors of virus replication. Studies will explore their mechanism of action.
    Skills development Cell culture, RNA isolation, RT-qPCR, western blotting, immunofluorescence, in situ hybridization
    Identify conditions which drive anti-phage defense in Pseudomonas aeruginosa
    Supervisor name Karen Maxwell
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description Bacteriophages (phages), the viruses that kill bacteria are an attractive therapy to combat antimicrobial resistance. However, a greater understanding of when bacteria activate their anti-phage defence systems, such as CRISPR, is needed to improve phage-based therapeutics. This project will focus on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a hospital pathogen, which encodes several anti-phage defence systems. Using a fluorescence-reporter the student will observe what systems are upregulated under clinically relevant conditions such as low iron. Phages will be added under these conditions to identify whether they encode defence counters. The information obtained in this study will provide a framework to ensure successful phage-based therapeutics.
    Skills development High-throughput fluorescence assays, generating gene deletions, protein purification
    Intracellular trafficking of bacterial pathogens
    Supervisor name John Brumell
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location Hospital for Sick Children
    Project description The project will examine how bacteria can invade into our cells and create a replicative niche.
    Skills development The project will involve human cell culture, bacterial invasion, immunofluorescence microscopy and protein analysis.
    Investigating the genomic epidemiology, transmission, and infectivity of the non-influenza respiratory viruses
    Supervisor name Rob Kozak
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location Sunnybrook Research Institute
    Project description

    Respiratory viruses are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality and a burden to the healthcare system. While considerable research has been done to date on influenza virus, other viruses including RSV, parainfluenza virus, human metapneumovirus, rhinovirus, and enteroviruses have largely been ignored. Infections with these RNA viruses can cause disease ranging from mild upper respiratory tract symptoms to pneumonia. This burden remains poorly understood, and the genomic epidemiology of these viruses are inadequately characterized.

    The overall objectives of this project include:
    1. Characterize the genomic epidemiology of circulating RNA respiratory viruses
    2. Compare viral genomic differences between hospitalized, ICU and community cases of respiratory RNA virus infections
    3. Understand transmission dynamics and infectivity in nosocomial outbreaks

    Skills development PCR, cell culture, next-generation sequencing, clinical chart reviews, RNAseq
    Learning from mpox: Community-based research to support the health of gay, bisexual, queer, and other men who have sex with men in Canada
    Supervisor name Daniel Grace
    Faculty Dalla Lana School of Public Health
    Work arrangement Hybrid or remote
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description Mpox (formerly referred to as monkeypox) was declared a public health emergency of international concern in July 2022. This study aims to learn from the experiences of Two-Spirit, gay, bisexual, and queer men (2SGBQM) in Canada regarding their health-seeking behaviours and experiences with mpox, including vaccine access; we also seek to learn from key community and government stakeholders in the mpox response. Students will support the research team in analyzing data from our ongoing mixed methods research. Our team brings together multidisciplinary researchers, community members, community partners, healthcare providers and decision-makers from across Canada committed to learning from mpox, and other intersecting epidemics, that impact diverse 2SGBQM.
    Skills development Students will gain experience in community-based research and collaboration with interdisciplinary researchers and research partners from outside of academia;  an understanding of critical qualitative approaches to research and analysis including (i) analyzing interviews and (ii) key texts (documents, policies, social media messaging); skills in manuscript writing, including opportunities to contribute to publications (e.g., literature review, writing of results); and opportunities to network and learn from researchers committed to advancing 2SLGBTQ+ health equity in a supportive learning environment.
    Rapid CRISPR-diagnostic assay for Candida identification and antifungal resistance prediction
    Supervisor name Nicole Weckman
    Faculty Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description In the face of the rapidly increasing global threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), we urgently need new technologies to improve AMR surveillance, diagnosis of infections, management of outbreaks, and antimicrobial stewardship. Antifungal resistant Candida species, like Candida auris, are increasingly included on urgent AMR threat lists because they can be difficult to treat and can cause deadly hospital outbreaks. A current challenge in tackling AMR is that antimicrobial susceptibility testing may only be performed in centralized reference laboratories, incurring delays in information critical for matching patients to best treatments. CRISPR-based diagnostics enable high sensitivity and specificity detection of genetic biomarkers. This project will develop rapid CRISPR diagnostic assays to detect antifungal resistance in Candida. The assay will be optimized for use in a clinical microbiology laboratory and validated with a variety of clinical samples through a collaboration with Shared Hospital Laboratory. The aim is to lay the groundwork for future research into broader implementation of AMR and infectious disease diagnostics in a range of global healthcare settings.
    Skills development CRISPR based diagnostics, synthetic biologic techniques, lateral flow sensors, analysis of genetic sequences, clinical sample analysis
    Software for statistical analysis of wastewater surveillance data
    Supervisor name Patrick Brown
    Faculty Faculty of Arts and Science
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location St. Michael’s Hospital
    Data on concentrations of material related to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases in wastewater is becoming widely available, and disseminated freely on various web sites. The data are, however, noisy and careful statistical analysis is needed to separate signal from noise. This project will involve applying novel statistical methods being developed at St Micheal’s Hospital and the Department of Statistical Sciences to publicly available wastewater data. The student will be supported by PhD students currently working on the project, and the primary goal will be to create a software package for R implementing the methods. An online system for automatically generating and presenting the results will be created.
    Skills development Statistical modelling, Bayesian inference, time series analysis, smoothing methods, R programming
    Systematic review of predictors of asymptomatic neurosyphilis in HIV
    Supervisor name Darrell Tan
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location St. Michael’s Hospital
    Syphilis is a re-emerging sexually transmitted infection that disproportionately affects gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, people living with HIV (PLWH) and other historically marginalized groups. Syphilis can occasionally involve the central nervous system, sometimes without causing symptoms. This has raised uncertainty regarding which patients require a diagnostic lumbar puncture, particularly in the setting of HIV. This studentship will involve completion of a previously initiated systematic review on risk factors for asymptomatic neurosyphilis among PLWH, resulting in a first-authored conference presentation and authorship of a scientific manuscript. The student will also participate in our ongoing research program in HIV/STI clinical trials and implementation science.
    Skills development Systematic review – defining research question, searching for relevant data sources, data extraction, assessing the quality of the studies, analyze and combine the data and interpret the findings.
    Targeting genital bacteria to reduce HIV risk
    Supervisor name Rupert Kaul
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description We are involved in several translational, clinical and qualitative research studies that all aim to understand how the genital microbiome alters HIV risk, and to develop immune/clinical interventions. Several of these involve working with African, Caribbean and other Black communities in Toronto and East Africa.
    Skills development Qualitative techniques (in depth interviews and focus groups), 16S sequencing and analysis, multiplex cytokine assays, statistical analysis.
    Tracking tRNAs through inflammation
    Supervisor name Haissi Cui
    Faculty Faculty of Arts and Science
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) help in the interpretation of the genetic code by serving as adapters between the RNA and the protein world. In addition, they can also give rise to tRNA fragments, which can modulate translation and fulfill other small RNA-associated functions. In previous studies, we found that metabolite depletion, as it occurs during inflammation, can cause massive degradation of tRNAs. We aim to use metabolic labeling and tRNA sequencing to track tRNAs during inflammation, with the goal of establishing these techniques for future use in the studies of viral infections.
    Skills development Tissue culture, metabolic labeling, RNA isolation, small RNA sequencing library preparation, data analysis
    Understanding the effects of the pandemic on global access to medications and vaccines
    Supervisor name Mina Tadrous
    Faculty Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy
    Work arrangement Hybrid
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant adverse impact on the drug supply chain and the access to medicines on a global scale. Restrictions on shipments resulted in disruptions in supply chain causing delays and shortages in the global drug supply. Additionally, access to available treatments and vaccines were not equitable across populations. There is evidence that suggests these changes in drug utilization patterns may act as an early detection tool for outbreaks of COVID-19 which include increased spending on certain medications such as ‘cold and flu’ medicine. The objective of this research proposal is to study COVID-related drugs of interest on a global scale to address access to treatments and potential signal mechanims. To achieve this objective, our research will focus on understanding drug and vaccine utilization of infectious disease related treartments. Additionally, we will determine if assessing drug utilization patterns can be leveraged to predict future outbreaks for the next pandemic.
    Skills development Data analysis and visulization, basic coding, some Statistical understanding, basic understanding of epidemiology
    Using intelligent robots to screen for infectious respiratory diseases
    Supervisor name Goldie Nejat
    Faculty Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering
    Work arrangement Hybrid
    Work location U of T, St. George campus
    Project description The COVID-19 pandemic has critically impacted the health and safety of the world’s population, especially the health/wellbeing of our most vulnerable people including frontline care providers. Infectious diseases are a constant threat to healthcare systems and to overall public health. Socially assistive robots (SARs) are interactive robots that communicate with people naturally. They are a unique disruptive technology that can help mitigate the effects due to pandemics/infectious diseases by alleviating the workload of care providers and improving patient outcomes. SARs can have significant impact on healthcare by completing tasks autonomously such as preliminary screening and assessment. The overall goal of this project is to design an intelligent SAR to perform respiratory symptom recognition and infectious disease risk assessment. Such robots can be leveraged to help improve patient wait times and overall experiences in crowded hospitals, minimize the risk of exposure and contact, and decrease the workload of busy staff. This novel proof-of-concept project will investigate the efficacy of using a combination of robotics, multi-modal sensing and communication, and artificial intelligence for robot facilitated respiratory screening. In doing so, this project addresses a pressing issue that is putting significant strain on our healthcare system.
    Skills development Robotics, deep learning methods for classification of respiratory symptoms, large language models, human-robot interactions, and multi-modal robot perception
    Wildlife surveillance for viral zoonoses
    Supervisor name Samira Mubareka
    Faculty Temerty Faculty of Medicine
    Work arrangement On-site
    Work location Sunnybrook Research Institute, field sites
    Project description In collaboration with counterparts in wildlife health, we have been conducting small mammal trapping in urban parks around Toronto. We have developed a pan-coronavirus PCR for screening samples and several whole genome sequencing workflows for the genomic characterization of positive samples. We anticipate continuing this project and there may be additional opportunities to screen other species (wild birds, bats) for zoonotic viruses. Students must be fully vaccinated for rabies and have adequate levels of antibodies prior to joining the project.
    Skills development Students would learn to design and conduct field work trapping small mammals for emerging viral zoonoses (coronaviruses, poxviruses), then conduct screening by PCR and serology in the laboratory. For students staying on for a 4th year project, they may be trained on viral genomic sequencing and analysis.

    Application materials


    For any questions or concerns, please email with “2024 Inspire Summer Studentship” in the subject line.

      The online application form will ask you to provide information about yourself, your top three projects of interest (selected from above) and a 250 word statement describing your interest in infectious diseases.

      For University of Toronto applicants (internal students), all materials should be submitted online through the application form. The supporting documents must be uploaded through the online application form. 

      For applicants outside University of Toronto (external students), please complete this form and submit all supporting documents to with “2024 Inspire Summer Studentship” in the subject line.

      Resume and transcript

      Provide your resume and an unofficial copy of your transcript as a combined PDF document using the following naming convention: Inspire_[Last name][First name][Student number]_Resume & Transcript.

      Letter of Support

      Provide one letter of support from a professor and/or mentor. The referee should have a direct relationship with the applicant and comment on the qualities, experiences and achievements that make them an excellent candidate for the EPIC Inspire Summer Studentship Award. Use the following naming convention: Inspire_[Student Name]_LOS_[Referee Name]. 

      Note: This section is required to be completed by the supervisor when confirmed.

      Please provide a brief project description (two to three sentences) and describe your plan as a supervisor for training and supporting the applicant’s interest in and understanding of infectious diseases.  

      Please confirm your commitment to supervise the applicant for a 12-16 week summer term and with intent to extend to a 4th year research project if both parties are in agreement.

      Supervisors should submit this letter to in document or email form. Please include “2024 Inspire Summer Studentship” in the email subject line.

      Demographic Survey

      Applicants and supervisors will be asked to complete our demographic survey. While this survey is required, there is an option to select “Prefer not to answer” for all questions.

      Important dates

      • Deadline to submit all application forms and supporting materials (through the online system): March 1, 2024, 11:59 pm (EST) 
      • Selection of successful applications: March 2024  
      • Interviews between successful applicants and faculty members: March/April 2024 
      • Summer studentships begin: May 2024