Meet Three Next Generation Researchers
Megh Rathod, Emily Wuerch and Hope Freeman are among the 500 students in the Faculty of Science who annually choose to complete an undergraduate thesis research project in their fourth year. Providing undergraduate students with the opportunity to work on independent research projects under the supervision of faculty members and graduate students is one of the hallmarks of the Faculty of Science. Science Matters will follow Megh, Emily and Hope as they complete their research and then present their findings next spring.
Megh Rathod, Integrated Science (Biology concentration)
"I have the privilege of working in the Vascular Dynamics Lab with Dr. Maureen MacDonald as my faculty supervisor. I'm looking into the dynamic nature of arteries and their ability to adjust to different demands. My focus is on arterial stiffness after short periods of inactivity in the central and peripheral arteries of older women. I've come to learn that our arteries are underrated and quite cool.
I chose to do an undergraduate thesis project to extend my learning beyond the classroom and to contribute to meaningful work. I specifically chose the Honours Integrated Science program here at Mac because it has such a big emphasis on research-based learning. I first learned about Dr. MacDonald's research and her career as a scientist during an undergraduate conference in my second year. When the opportunity came to work with her, I immediately applied. I admire her leadership, how she demands excellence and how she truly cares about everyone in her lab.
The Integrated Science program has many interdisciplinary research projects embedded within its curriculum. I started doing research through a third-year independent project in Dr. Stuart Phillip's lab, followed by working in the Latner Thoracic Surgery Research Lab in the summer.
What I find so interesting about physiology is that I continue to be fascinated by the wonders of the human body and its complexity on many different levels. The more I learn, the more amazed I am by all of what bodies do and how it ultimately allows us to do what we love. I really like the concept of solving problems and my passion for physiology has drawn me to research and to uncovering new truths about the human body from a mechanistic standpoint. Ultimately, I enjoy how these studies and experiments have a clinical impact to improve human health. I continue to be inspired by new discoveries and revelations by many influential scientists who have made science so fascinating to me.
My message to undergraduate students who are thinking about doing a thesis project? Start early. Get exposed to a lot of different subjects to gain an understanding of what you like and don't like. Research positions can be hard to come by, so ask to get involved in any capacity and develop a connection with the principal investigator. You should put added emphasis on choosing a lab where you can gain skills, learn from others who are supportive, and ultimately where you can see yourself succeed. It's a big step in preparing yourself for a professional setting in the future."
Emily Wuerch, Biology and Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour
"I'm looking at how auditory processing changes in bats depending on the stimulus. We know that auditory processing is crucial to many bat species because it plays a large role in their behavior. I'm comparing activation in bat auditory brain regions following the presentation of various stimuli to see which stimulus evokes the greatest level of activity. This research will give us more insight into the social behavior of bats. I'm fortunate to have Dr. Paul Faure, principal investigator of McMaster's Bat Lab, as my research supervisor and Taylor Byron as my graduate student mentor.
I started doing research during my second year when I completed an independent research practicum in Dr. Karin Humphreys’ Cognitive Science Lab. I successfully applied for an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award the following summer and started doing research in the Bat Lab where I've been a member for the last two years. I've assisted graduate students with their projects so it's fulfilling to now have a research project of my own through my undergraduate thesis. I've discovered that research is what I'm really passionate about. I enjoy being in an environment where I'm constantly learning so research is a perfect fit..
Along with developing essential skills like problem-solving, organization and science writing, I chose to do an undergrad thesis so I could gain a better understanding of what a master's program will be like. I'm pursuing a master's in neuroscience following my undergrad. So far, I've really enjoyed the independence that comes with doing a thesis project and I'm learning new research methods. I'm taking four other courses on top of my thesis so prioritizing my time can be a challenge.
I'd encourage third-year students to choose a research project or field that you are really interested in because that'll make your thesis much more enjoyable. I’m always excited to go into the lab and work on my thesis, which has made this a really positive experience for me. Also, I would say to all students that it’s never too early to get involved in a lab. Being in the Bat Lab the past few years has allowed me to develop key skills that are required for my particular thesis project so joining the lab ahead of time has been really beneficial."
Hope Freeman, Earth and Environmental Sciences
"The main focus of my research is gaining insight into the factors that control the moisture regime in turtle nesting habitats within the Georgian Bay Archipelago. This research is important because it can help guide our understanding of turtle nest site selection and how to restore turtle nesting habitat within the Georgian Bay region. Dr. James Michael Waddington is my undergraduate thesis supervisor. In addition to Dr. Waddington's exceptional guidance, Dr. Chantel Markle and Dr. Paul Moore have provided outstanding feedback and assistance.
In my second year, I took Dr. Patricia Chow-Fraser's ecology course where Dr. Markle delivered an inspirational guest lecture that left me wanting to do research in the field of conservation. The best approach for me was to pursue research through an ecohydrological lens due to my Earth and Environmental Sciences background. I first participated in research during the summer of my second year when I worked at Grundy Lake Provincial Park. The park has a turtle monitoring program for volunteers, visitors and staff. I helped identify and handle the turtles, recording information on habitat, and body characteristics such as weight and shell length. I think the best part about this experience was watching the female turtles lay their eggs. I loved walking by the nests all summer, peaking into the cage patiently waiting for the eggs to hatch for the turtles to emerge from their nests.
I then worked as a research assistant for Dr. Waddington’s lab in the summer of my third year and gained first-hand research experience with all the different projects happening within the Ecohydrology Lab. After helping one of my colleagues with her undergraduate thesis data collection and listening to her collaborate and plan her project throughout the summer, I knew an undergraduate thesis project was for me.
My advice for third-year students thinking about doing a thesis project is to do what you love and love what you do. It's important to work with a supervisor who has similar research interests. I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Waddington, Dr. Markle and all of the members of the McMaster Ecohydrology Lab. I can't help but smile every time I think about my undergraduate thesis project because I'm working on something that I'm so passionate about. Finally, it's important to enjoy every minute of the undergraduate thesis project, even the setbacks. All of the experiences your project provides will help you become a better scientist."