Scientific Research Experience


Hands on Science

Photos clockwise from top left: Hummingbird Research - Sitting in the field watching hummingbirds, 2007 (Photo: John Michell); A male rufous hummingbird feeds from one of my experimental flower patches, 2007 (Photo: Andy Hurly); The experimental flower patches were filled with precise volumes using a micropipette, 2007 (Photo: Andy Hurly); Chickadee Research - We used mist-nets to catch birds, such as this black-capped chickadee in Montana, 2008;  The blood collected from the birds had to be carefully labelled and organized, Montana 2008. In this picture you can also see the PhD student that I worked under, John Hindley on the right.

I’ve had several amazing opportunities to participate in original scientific research, both in the field and in the lab. These experiences have given me real-life experience in various scientific fields, which allows me to bring science to life for my students. I was fortunate to be awarded 3 Undergraduate Student Research Awards from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to fund my summer projects. 

Hummingbird Research - Behavioural Ecology

The University of Lethbridge has a fantastic field station in the Rocky Mountains in south-western Alberta. This station is primarily used to study the behavioural ecology of male rufous hummingbirds. I have spent two summers at this station, conducting three experiments on hummingbird foraging behaviour, under the guidance of Dr. T. Andrew Hurly.

Two of my studies focused on the risk-sensitive foraging behaviour of the birds - what they do when faced with flowers that differ in the variability of the volume of nectar they offer. Despite problems with weather, I found some novel results - a preference for risk (variability) even when the birds were well-fed. I presented the results of this study in a poster presentation at the Prairie Universities Biological Symposium in 2009. In my third study I investigated whether hummingbirds have any systematic spatial preferences that might interfere with the results of other experiments. I am currently writing up the results of this study for publication because we found that some systematic spatial foraging patterns do exist, and could explain some of the statistical “noise” in the data in other studies on these birds.

Chickadee Research - Molecular Ecology

I also spent one summer studying the phylogeography (using molecular markers to determine population patterns over time) of mountain chickadees. This involved two field seasons, in British Columbia and Montana, where I worked with Dr. Theresa Burg and her PhD student John Hindley to catch a variety of bird species and collect blood samples for later analysis. Later in the summer I participated in a variety of lab work to analyze the samples from mountain chickadees in particular: I extracted DNA, amplified it using PCR, sent it off for sequencing and then analyzed the resulting DNA sequence to determine whether there was any structure in the mountain chickadee populations. This was a very interesting project that gave me first-hand experience with both field and lab techniques in molecular ecology and genetics. 

Human Research - Social Psychology

In order to round out my scientific research experience, I spent a semester helping out in an experimental psychology lab, under the direction of Dr. Martin Lalumiere. I helped to recruit subjects from the general population and from at-risk groups, and then ran these subjects through a variety of tasks aimed at assessing how they make decisions under situations of risk.