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Research Skills For Engineering Students (2023 edition)

The goal of this tutorial is to improve your engineering information research skills.

Important Notice

This tutorial will be retired May 1, 2024 and will re-direct to a revised Research Skills for Engineering Students tutorial. The new tutorial is available at

Please contact if you have questions.

Learning Objectives

This goal of this tutorial is to improve your engineering information research skills. By the end of this tutorial, you will be able to:

  1. Brainstorm concepts and keywords for your question(s)
  2. Understand how to differentiate between and evaluate information
  3. Search Google and Google Scholar effectively
  4. Search UBC Library via Summon, to find books/e-books and journal articles
  5. Find technical and scholarly engineering information using academic databases
  6. Understand what standards and patents are, and how to find them
  7. Understand when and how to cite your sources

Why is research important to your education & career?

Knowing where and how to find different types of information will help you solve engineering problems, in both your academic and professional career. Lack of investigation into engineering guidelines, standards, and best practices can result in failure with severe repercussions.

An example of engineering failure is the Mount Polley Tailings Breach. On August 4 2014 without any apparent warning, a breach in the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond dam released years of mining waste into Polley Lake, B.C. An independent expert engineering investigation and review panel found that the failure was primarily within the design, specifically:
  • Lack of recognition of a weak underlying layer of glacial deposits in the dam’s foundation
    • Subsurface investigations were not tailored to complex geologic environment
  • Construction of the dam’s downstream rockfill zone at a steep slope of 1.3 horizontal to 1.0 vertical, placing a higher load on the foundation
    • Original design criteria proposed a slope of 2.0 horizontal to 1.0 vertical

As an engineer, your ability to conduct thorough and accurate research while clearly communicating the results is extremely important in decision-making processes.

Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB). This ensures you have the education required for future licensure as a professional engineer (P.Eng.) in Canada. It is expected that UBC Engineering graduates possess certain attributes, to be used as foundation for continued professional development. A number of CEAB Graduate Attributes speak directly to your ability to locate and use engineering information effectively (Accreditation Criteria and Procedures 2021):

  • 3.1.7 Communication skills
  • 3.1.8 Professionalism
  • 3.1.9 Impact of engineering on society and the environment
  • 3.1.10 Ethics and equity
  • 3.1.12 Life-long learning


Library Access Browser Extension

Step 1: Download and install the extension:

Step 2: Select University of British Columbia

Step 3: Start searching! When off-campus, Library Access will let you know when you are on a website that the library has access to.

Step 4: Login with your UBC CWL (campus wide login)

Guide Licence

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

For ease of reuse and adapting, copies of the tutorial transcripts and video files can be found in Open Science Framework (OSF). 



Video files: