MSURJ Author Profiles 2022

Want to meet the undergraduates behind the upcoming MSURJ issue? Check out the profiles below and attend the MSURJ Launch on April 8th, 2022!

Micro-Urban Heat Islands in the City of Montreal

Sam Aucoin

Authors*

Sam Aucoin (he/him), U3 Earth System Science Honours

Alex Briand (he/him), U3 Earth System Sciences

Zoya Qudsi (she/her), U3 Earth System Science 

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad? Why is it important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

Z: I first participated in research after my second year at McGill after taking a course in chemical oceanography. I found this subject really interesting, so I decided to join the professor’s research group. However, since then I’ve had the opportunity to conduct projects in other topics.

Doing research as an undergraduate is important not only for the skills you learn, but also for finding out what you like and (more importantly) don’t like. Doing lots of different research projects at McGill has really helped me figure out which subjects I’ll be pursuing post-graduation.

A: I have always been interested in doing research, and have been doing undergraduate research during last summer. This project was done during a course (ESYS 500), and allowed us to push this interest even further. I am very grateful to have been part of this class.

S: This research project was actually a part of the course ESYS500, which is designed as the capstone course/project for the Earth System Science program, and is meant to give students first-hand experience with designing and executing a research project. I personally think it is very important to get involved in research as an undergraduate in science, even if you don’t plan on continuing in academia since it instills within you an appreciation of how modern science is conducted, and how and why we know the things we do. Conducting research as an undergrad can just be an introduction to the scientific way of thinking, but I think it is just as important as being introduced to other important aspects of life like social and artistic literacy.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

Z: Expressing your passion and interest goes a long way. A professor might hesitate to go through the trouble of taking you on if they can tell you aren’t really interested in the work, but might be more willing if they know you’re really into it.

A: Speak to professors and ask them questions. Try to understand a subject of interest by reading scientific literature and digging into it. This way you will make connections with people doing research, as well as getting a good idea of the process.

S: My advice for an undergraduate interested in getting research experience is to not be shy in approaching professors. Just ask them point-blank (politely) if they have projects available, and be sure to include any of your relevant experience or interests. Most professors understand that you are mostly looking for introductory experience, and are even willing to refer you to their peers if they don’t have anything for you!

Can you give a brief summary of the work you submitted to MSURJ? What is the importance of this work?

S: This work that we submitted is a look into what we call “Micro-Urban Heat Islands” (MUHIs) on the island of Montreal. A “Micro-Urban Heat Island” is essentially a “hot spot” within a city, which could be as small as a building, or as big as a mall complex. Briefly, we used satellite thermal imagery to isolate and find MUHIs, as well as other satellite measurements to determine what types of surfaces they appeared on. We wanted to map these local “hot spots” for Montreal and to try to understand their causes because there is a surprising lack of information on this phenomenon in general, despite it having impacts on public health. We hope that our study, as well as others like it, can help inform building and city planning practices specifically with regard to urban greenspace to reduce heat-related illness.

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

Z: The peer reviewers provided some amazing additional references that added to my understanding of the topic. Especially because I do not have a background in geography, which is more what this project was about, it was great to get information from experts in the field.

A: Peer review allowed us to polish the work and make it even better/clearer for publishing. It is part of the learning process.

S: I think the publishing/peer-review process was very beneficial to us, because it gave us an opportunity to see what experts in the field thought of our work, and to gain insightful comments on what we did well, and what could be improved. Another aspect was that MSURJ has a limit on the number of words and figures, so in preparing to submit it, we were sort of forced to really think about what parts were necessary, and how to make the paper more concise, which turned out to be in our favour. I think the whole process pushed us to make a better and clearer version of the article.

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

Z: I admire Prof. Max Liboiron who is currently an associate professor in geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland. They research plastic pollution, but what I really admire is their anticolonial approach to science. Their group incorporates accountability, consent, land relations, data sovereignty, and community peer review into their work. Prof. Liboiron is a great role model for responsible and conscious science.

A: I really like Stephen Hawkings. His story is truly inspiring.

S: There are so many scientists from history that I look up to, I’m not sure I could pick just one. I am fascinated by the genius that was Carl Friedrich Gauss, or how Richard Feynman was able to explain such difficult concepts so clearly, or Emmy Noether’s immense contributions to physics and math, I could go on. They are all important to me for different reasons, and I admire all of them.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

S: I’d just like to also thank everyone at MSURJ for making this journal possible!

Z: I just want to thank the editorial team at MSURJ for facilitating the publication process!

* Note: An additional author was unavailable for comment.

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Quantifying the Albedo of the Montreal Island and its Potential for Increase

Elena Frie

Elena Frie, she/her, Major: Earth system science, Minor: Anthropology, Year: U3 

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad? Why do you think it is important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

This research was conducted as part of a final year research course for the Earth System science program. The coursework for Earth system science culminates in this class where the purpose is to explore any part of the Earth system in a novel manner. An opportunity for research is thus worked into our coursework and is beneficial both in ensuring that all students get the opportunity to try research while also providing a structure within which to carry the research out. I think that research is important to try out in undergrad, as it is so central to a future academic career. Through trying research now, one can decide whether such a direction post-grad is actually appealing. Otherwise, it is another opportunity to rule out a possible direction and narrow in on something that you do enjoy! Also, before specifying post-grad, there are so many disciplines one can get involved in through research while still at McGill.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

I would suggest being prepared for setbacks, and total conceptual recalculations. I have found research to sometimes feel very uncertain in timeline until reaching the results portion of the work. Asking answerable questions, and coming up with feasible methodology is nearly impossible, but requires constant work to get right. 

Can you give a brief summary of the work you submitted to MSURJ? What is the importance of this study?

My study, “Quantifying the Albedo of the Montreal Island and its Potential for Increase,” aims to develop a simple framework for calculating the albedo (surface reflectivity) of the Montreal island and the albedo increase caused by surface changes. This question was guided by the increasing phenomena of the “urban heat island (UHI) effect” due to land use changes. The UHI effect is observed on the Montreal Island, where temperatures are often a few degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas. For this reason, previous studies have looked at manipulations that increase urban surface reflectivity to offset temperatures, but these studies tend to use a generalized albedo value for all urban areas. We wished to aid in future study of mitigation tactics for the Montreal island by finding a location specific albedo value which we found to be 0.19 ±0.057.  Next, we also sought to test the albedo increase caused by hypothetically painting all rooftops white. This is a mitigation technique that is commonly referenced in literature and has even been implemented in policy by a number of cities, most notably, New York City. The albedo was increased by 0.1 due to the whitening of rooftops, implying a potentially significant mitigation technique for the Montreal island. This research was conducted primarily using GIS and literature review.

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

The peer review process was helpful in identifying the key components of the study, and the sections that were less necessary. Having outside eyes look at this research allowed us to see the work with the same new perspective and guided the final product toward being accessible by a wider audience. 

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

There is not one specific scientist that I look up to, but I truly appreciate all scientists that make considerations for the accessibility of their work through outreach by any means. I enjoy seeing research simplified for the non-scientific community especially through podcasts etc. I also really love seeing science and arts researchers work together as I feel there is a lot to gain from closing that gap.

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Overblown? Analyzing Wind Speed in the Hurricane Warning Response System

From Left to Right: Killian Abellon, Anika Anderson and Amelia Murphy.

Authors

Amelia Murphy; she/her; Sustainability, Science and Society/Minor in Anthropology; U3

Anika Anderson; she/her; Sustainability, Science and Society/Minor in Biology; U3

Killian Abellon; he/him; Honours Sustainability, Science and Society/Minor in Political Science; U3

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad? 

K: Well, for this particular project, it was part of our curriculum, since we are required to take the research course GEOG 460: Research in Sustainability as part of our major. 

We all come from a sustainability program and we were often exposed to topics that went further than the typically limited sustainability approach mentioned in mainstream media and corporations. As a result, we constantly questioned our assumptions and tried to confront them with a more integrative and critical approach to sustainability. What better way to answer these questions than with research?

On my end, I also wanted to take advantage of all opportunities at McGill. It is a very research intensive university where the institution, its students and its professors are all geared towards doing research. Therefore, with my insatiable curiosity, it felt natural to enhance my analytical and writing skills, stepping out of the traditional learning process as well as networking.

Why is it important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

K: Your first research project is always intimidating and a mandatory passage from student to scholar. However, you learn by doing. Reading scholarly papers is interesting but going through the methodology, analyzing your data and writing your findings gives you an insight that you cannot find elsewhere. Sure, it can get boring or frustrating when you do not reach the results you were hoping for. Nonetheless, once you fix the unexpected (and annoying) issues, you will be proud (and rightfully so!) of the results. You will have brought new knowledge to be shared with society! Doing research with other students or alone is much more rewarding than just writing essays and midterms.

Eventually, in the right hands, your knowledge could be the key to improving livelihoods. I would say that the unique danger of research is that once you begin doing it, it becomes difficult to stop. Indeed, so many questions keep popping in your head when you delve into the topic and you begin to see the potential implications and limitations of your current research. In a way, it teaches you patience and pragmatism.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

AM: Research is so exciting and such a good opportunity in your undergrad whether you’re planning on going into academia or not! Don’t be afraid to ask questions (especially to a supervisor, mentor, etc), be open-minded about where your research will take you and always review and revise and re-iterate (x1000), and have fun! If you choose a research topic you are genuinely interested in, and are able to find a team with a diverse background, skillset, and who you enjoy working with, it will come together much more easily. We left this project friends firstly with each other, but also with everyone in our class who provided feedback and support, and wouldn’t be where we are without those friendships!

AA: We really lucked out that we got along so well and were able to become close friends through this project. If you can choose, I would say be thoughtful about who you decide to work with, whether a teammate or a supervisor, because you will be spending a lot of time together!

Can you give a brief summary of the work/review you submitted to MSURJ? 

AA: Our project questioned the effectiveness of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale in preparing for hurricanes. The scale uses maximum sustained wind speed as a measure of hurricane intensity and is used for preparation purposes. However, many of the devastating effects of hurricanes are due to factors other than wind. We wanted to examine the value of relying on hurricane wind speed to prepare for impacts, and look at one aspect of why so many communities are devastated by ‘preventable catastrophes’. To determine if wind speed is a good predictor of hurricane outcomes, we built a database of hurricanes and used this database to plot variables (such as deaths, damages, and recovery funding) against hurricane wind speed. With this analysis we explored whether hurricane wind speed correlates with hurricane outcomes.

What is the importance of this work/review?

AM: We feel that this work could help catalyze the reforms necessary for a warning-response system that better contributes to community resiliency. Our findings contribute to a vast body of work on hurricane warming-response systems and bureau-organizations, coastal resilience and disaster management, and atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and hope to inspire further research and action in the field. 

On a personal note, I grew up on Nantucket island where we are intimately affected by hurricanes. As the island will be underwater in a 2°C warming scenario, and consistently loses shoreline to coastal erosion in severe storms, I have always felt a personal call to research/understand hurricanes and coastal resiliency, and deeply feel the importance of this work in the face of increasingly frequent and severe storms due to climate change. 

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

AA: It was very exciting to learn more about the behind the scenes of publishing and receiving feedback was helpful to think critically about our work and how to present it in an understandable way. When you’re doing a project you can get tunnel vision because you are so entrenched in the ideas, but it’s important to get outside perspectives to improve your work and learn how to explain it. Peer review was especially helpful for us to consider the terminology we were using and clarify our language for the reader.

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

AM: My idol is Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson at the Urban Ocean Lab!

K: This question is particularly difficult for me because I attach more importance to the particular discovery than to who actually did it. However, reflecting on who has affected my vision of the world the most since I entered university, I would say Elinor Ostrom. Her work to analyze socio-ecological systems is brilliant and has practical applications to sustainable policymaking. 

AA: Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, plant ecologist, Citizen Potawatomi Nation member, and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, and Dr. Amy Christianson, Métis fire ecologist and host of the podcast Good Fire, both of whom are amazing indigenous women scientists who are working to bring many scientific perspectives together.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A HUGE thank you to our Professor and supervisor, Dr. Brian Robinson, to whom we are infinitely grateful for his wisdom, support, and mentorship. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Potential for Use of Spent Substrate of Pleurotus Mushrooms Grown on Urban Waste as Feed for Dairy Cattle

Liesl van Wyk

Author

Liesl van Wyk (she/they), Bioresource Engineering, 5th year

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad?

I decided to do a research project as part of the class BREE 497 (Bioresource Engineering Project), because it seemed like a great learning experience and a good opportunity to answer some questions I had about mushrooms as a tool in the circular economy. I got really interested in mushrooms and mushroom cultivation at the start of COVID, and when I came back to the city I got really inspired when I realized that people were growing oyster mushrooms on cardboard and spent coffee grounds. I was so confused as to why this practice wasn’t more widespread and wanted to get to the bottom of it! The only real issue I heard about was contamination issues when using coffee, and low nutrient supply from just using cardboard. So, I did an initial research project in a biology class to figure out the optimal ratio of cardboard to coffee. After that project, I felt like there was more research to be done, which is how I eventually landed on this project!

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

Just go for it, even if you don’t think you’re qualified. It can be intimidating at first when you’re getting started but if it’s something that interests you, that’s all that matters as the rest can be learned!

Can you give a brief summary of the work you submitted to MSURJ? What is the importance of this work?

For my project I grew oyster mushrooms on urban waste (cardboard and coffee grounds) to determine if the leftover substrate (after harvesting the mushrooms) could be used as animal feed, and what substrate ratio of cardboard to coffee would give the best performance as a feed. This work is really important because, while mushrooms are great as an alternative to animal-based proteins, there is a huge amount of waste produced in the form of spent substrate – around 5kg for every 1kg of harvested mushrooms. Looking for alternative uses for spent substrate can help us transition from a waste-based mindset to a value-based one: what benefit can we still derive from spent mushroom substrate, and where can we use it as a feedstock in other processes, killing two birds with one stone? There is still lots more work to be done, but it saddened me to see a lack of academic research on this topic, so I wanted to do my part.

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

This process was incredibly helpful to me, as an affirmation of the quality of my work. As a queer woman in engineering it can be quite hard to feel qualified to put myself out there, as I don’t see myself reflected in positions of power or prestige in my program or industry. However, having my work be reviewed and approved by professionals and peers in my field has been an incredibly valuable affirmation that helps me combat the imposter syndrome that I feel a lot of the time.

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

I would have to say Paul Stamets, simply because his work has been such a valuable resource for me as I have learned more about the world of mycology. His book Mycelium Running opened my eyes to the wonderful world of mycology and the incredible potential that mushrooms hold, and he’s done a lot to generate and disseminate knowledge about mushrooms and mushroom cultivation.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank MSURJ for all of the hard work that went into the editing and publishing process, and I’d also like to thank Dr. Clark, who was my supervisor for this project. It was in his class that I first learned the concept of the circular economy, and he has been incredibly helpful on my research journey.

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Tuning Aptamer-Switching for Biosensing Malarial Proteins

Maxine Forder

Author

Maxine Forder (she/her), U3 Pharmacology

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad? Why is it important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

I wanted to try research in order to see if it was something I wanted to pursue after my undergraduate degree. I think it is important for everyone to try, even those who aren’t currently interested in pursuing a Master’s or PhD, because many career paths provide opportunities for research down the line. For example, doctors or pharmacists may start off in typical roles but end up getting involved in clinical trials later on. At the same time, conducting research improves critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills, which are all important aspects in any job.  

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

Just give it a try! If you’re concerned about time commitment, a lack of lab skills, or anything else, just be clear with your supervisor and they will help you out; that is what they are there for. If you’re struggling to get into a lab, just keep trying and eventually you will get a space. I, for one, only started research in my final year of my undergraduate degree but it worked out fine!

Can you give a brief summary of the work/review you submitted to MSURJ? What is the importance of this work?

My supervisor and I worked on tuning a DNA-based system that can be used to detect if a person is infected with malaria. We hope to improve this system so that it can eventually be sent to a biotechnology company to be made into a smartphone-compatible diagnostic test. This system would ultimately reduce the cost and improve the portability of malaria testing. 

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

It was helpful to see what experts in the field thought of our experiments, workflow, and conclusions, and how they thought it could be improved. These comments contained ideas that will be useful for work in future research. 

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An Analysis of Behaviour Change Techniques used in the Care for Child Development Parenting Program

Author

Claire Wamboldt (she/her/elle), BSc. Psychology U3

Why did you decide to conduct research as an undergrad? 

Undergraduate research is a great way to gain more in-depth knowledge about things that you find interesting and might want to pursue further in academia or in the workforce. I was also able to learn some skills, like research methods and statistics, that seemed so difficult and mysterious when I first heard about them during lectures! The manuscript that I submitted to MSURJ was part of a project I worked on during my final year at McGill, and I really valued being able to synthesize a lot of the things that I learned during the course of my bachelor’s degree into a single “final product.”

Why is it important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

Doing research as an undergraduate really engaged me with my degree. Especially since so much of my experience at McGill was either online or hybrid, I sometimes felt like my education was really removed from the real world. Doing a project that incorporated bits and pieces from classes I had taken throughout the years really brought what I had learned to life! Plus, at McGill, doing research often means that you can get involved with ground-breaking and important projects that are pushing your field forward; I think that’s a huge privilege. 

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

Pick something you’re really and truly interested in! It’s so much easier to put in the work that’s required if you’re excited about what you’re working on. So do the research up front and know what the supervisors you’re contacting are working on. Also, say yes as much as possible if you’re lucky enough to find ways to do more with the work you’re doing in undergrad. Submit to journals (like MSURJ), volunteer in a lab, and make the most of your time in undergrad!

Can you give a brief summary of the work/review you submitted to MSURJ? What is the importance of this work/review?

My piece is a scoping review and analysis of a parenting package called “Care for Child Development.” It is promoted by UNICEF and mostly implemented in low- and middle- income countries to promote the responsive stimulation of infants by their caregivers, primarily focusing on communication and play. This intervention is important because currently, many children aren’t reaching their full cognitive developmental potential, due in large part to a lack of stimulation in their environments. 

We conducted a scoping review of as much of the available evidence as possible. Through this review, we identified a ton of variability in the implementation of this package, from who was implementing it, to how they were being trained and supervised, to how the information in the “Care for Child Development” package was adapted and supplemented in places around the world. 

We also analysed the correlation between child cognitive development or caregiver behaviour outcomes with behaviour change techniques employed by various iterations of the program. Basically, we wanted to know if the methods used by agents to teach people the program affected how successful the program was. Our results suggest that certain techniques could successfully change caregiver behaviour. However, these techniques haven’t been implemented enough yet for that change in behaviour to translate to gains in children’s cognitive development. Social support and performance need to be leveraged more in these programs to see these gains, mediated by greater parental behaviour change.  

My piece was completed as a part of a larger project focused on understanding what this parenting program looks like around the world. “Care for Child Development” is massively flexible, so getting an overview of how it is adapted and used in different contexts was incredibly valuable, from helping us define what “Care for Child Development” actually is to making suggestions for what further versions of the package should change or add. 

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

I really enjoyed the MSURJ process from start to finish. The review process helped me improve so many elements of my paper, for example the way that I presented my conclusions. I really encourage anyone to apply next year; the team was so friendly and kind, and I learned a lot from them.

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

Brenda Milner! 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just a big thank you to MSURJ for making this publishing opportunity available! I’m also so grateful to the co-authors of my paper for providing me with the chance to do this research with them. 

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Food Production and Distribution from Commercial Urban Farms from a Socioeconomic Perspective

Left to right: Emma Armitage and Emma Melis

Authors

Emma Melis, she/her, Sustainability, Science & Society, U3

Emma Armitage (she/her/elle), Sustainability, Science and Society, U3

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad?

AM: The Sustainability, Science & Society (SSS) degree program at McGill emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research, so that was the first catalyst towards my conducting research in undergrad. Being in the Environment and Geography communities at McGill also means that most of my friends and peers are doing independent or group research projects, so I kind of just ended up in a friend group made up of people working part-time as research assistants and independent researchers. My own involvement in research during my undergrad at McGill snowballed as I took on more research projects, jobs and research-based classes. Now I will be doing my Honours thesis over the upcoming year under the supervision of a joint professor in the Bieler School of Environment and the Department of Geography. I never thought I would do research, but I really enjoy the problem-solving experience of research (especially environmental research using GIS) and look forward to doing a Master’s one day. 

Why is it important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

AA: The work my team and I submitted to MSURJ looks at commercial urban farming in Chicago. We examine if there is a difference between neighbourhood socioeconomic status where food is grown within the city and where food is distributed. Using GIS, we compared the spatial distribution of urban farm locations to their distribution point locations and statistically analyzed the differences in socioeconomic status. Our research finds that food tends to be grown in lower income, lower home value and higher minority population areas, whereas it is distributed in areas with higher income, higher home value and lower minority populations. Our findings point to inequitable food distribution within the city of Chicago, indicating the farms may not be serving the communities where they are located, at least in terms of where produce is sold. 

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

AM: Be aware of your professors’ lab and research! If you have a good working relationship with your professors or if you find their research interesting, inquire about part-time work during the year or about summer research opportunities. I would also advise students to pay attention to what peers and the graduate students in your department are researching because word of mouth is an excellent way to find interesting research projects. 

AA: Research is an iterative process. It’s normal for your research question to evolve as you learn more about the available data and existing literature. Don’t be discouraged if things are taking longer than you expected. In the end, you will generate valuable, original research to share. 

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you?

AM: It was great to get feedback a few months after we had submitted it as part of our course work! Once we had let the project rest for a while, going back to it and reviewing it more critically based on reviewers’ comments was really helpful and ultimately helped us refine our work as well as our report-writing skills for future publications.

Is there a scientist that you look up to?

AA: Yes – Robin Wall Kimmerer! Botanist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer intertwines Indigenous and scientific knowledge in her work. I think the questions she investigates are so meaningful as we look for ways to cope with the climate crisis and heal our relationships with nature. 

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Coastal Sea-Ice Break-Up Events in Beringia

Author

Sam Aucoin (He/Him), U3 Earth System Science Honours

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad?

I started this research in the summer of 2021 as a part of an NSERC USRA (an undergraduate research award), and the project developed into my Honours Thesis after that. I was initially looking for research projects because I wanted to gain research experience to complement my degree, as well as find a project for my Honours. I contacted Prof. Tremblay because I am interested in Arctic and ocean science; he suggested this project, and I have been working on it ever since!

Can you give a brief summary of the work you submitted to MSURJ? What is the importance of this work?

This paper examines aspects of small-scale sea ice dynamics along the Bering and Chukchi coast. In particular, we are interested in a phenomenon we call break-up events, although they go by several different names such as breakout events and polynya events. These are events where the coastal ice drifts away from the shoreline for a period of time during the winter, leaving an area of open water. These events pose a serious safety risk for local residents yet are still poorly understood. The impact of climate change on these events is not known either, which is a main motivator behind our study. We wanted to understand the causes of these events and, crucially, whether numerical models could be used to predict their future. We hope that this work can be used to inform safety and policy decisions in communities along the Alaskan/Russian coast and to augment local and indigenous knowledge.

Note: If you would like to learn more about Sam, check out Micro-Urban Heat Islands in the City of Montreal!

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Genome Annotation of Novel K1 Subcluster Mycobacteriophage Blizzard, part 1

Morgane Brouillard-Galipeau

Authors (part 1 – second set of authors will be highlighted tomorrow!)

Morgane Brouillard-Galipeau, U3 Honours microbiology and immunology

Alexandra Mircescu (She/Her), U3 Microbiology & Immunology

Bao-An Chau (she/her), U3 MIMM

Benjamin Vonniessen (he/him), Honours Immunology U3

Cal Koger-Pease (they/them), U3 honours microbiology and immunology

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad?

MBG: I’ve always been very interested in research and in learning new skills, so when I heard about the SEA-PHAGES bioinformatics course I jumped on the opportunity to be a part of it.

A: I started research a little before my undergrad and found the analysis extremely engaging. I initially also chose my degree knowing that it would have a larger portion associated with research. In my second year, I chose to pursue the research undergraduate project class MIMM 396. 

BC: I think the undergrad years are the perfect time to explore different areas of science and research. When I heard I could explore the field of bioinformatics, I jumped on the opportunity!

BV: Did a lab project during CEGEP and found the lab environment fascinating. Designing and pursuing research questions was the first opportunity to apply and make relevant what I learned in the classroom. In terms of my undergraduate at McGill, my first research experience was in the summer following my first year, characterizing antimicrobial producing bacteria isolated during an undergraduate introductory microbiology course (MIMM 212). That’s how I ended up in SEA-PHAGES!

C: This research was my first experience as an undergrad. I joined the group after speaking with Dr. Chahal at the MIMM Wine and Cheese in 2020. At the time we expected the course would be a wet lab, but of course given COVID it ended up being online and we did bioinformatics research instead. I enjoyed it much more than I expected, and because of that experience I applied for honours and started a longer research project. It was such a great experience and really helped me figure out what I want to do in the field going forward.

Alexandra Mircescu

Why is it important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

MBG: Undergrad is a great time to conduct research and write reviews because it’s very low-stakes. Mistakes are made to learn from. The goal of undergrad research is to learn new technical skills and develop writing skills that will make you a stronger candidate for graduate school, med school, or careers in your field. 

BC: This is the best time to experience research, learn the ropes, discover different facets of science and see if, later on, you want to go into academia, industry or a completely different field. It is also the most appropriate time to make mistakes, as it won’t deeply affect your career yet.

BV: I think simply going to class and studying for exams will be insufficient in cementing the information in your mind. Conducting research is critical in forcing you to apply those skills and the  knowledge you’ve acquired in a new way. As such, I’ve felt that I have learned much  more through undergraduate research than I did in a classroom, but that might be because most/all my courses were online!

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

MBG: Don’t be afraid to contact professors about their research if you’re interested, but don’t have your heart set out on one PI. Once in the lab, ask questions if there’s something you don’t understand, more often than not people will be more than happy to help!

A:  Learn about the opportunities available to you within your program and engage with your professors at student society events. Ask your TAs about their experiences and see which labs they recommend!

BC: Find a topic you like and start contacting professors. Don’t be shy! Most of them would be happy to train an undergrad. There are even organisations that help you find internships abroad.

BV: Always keep your ear to the ground. There are always fascinating research projects going on that  you can try to become involved with. This will help you to not only diversify your background but also allow you to explore and discover what topics really interest you. 

C: Honestly the hardest part is getting started. If you can, take research based courses to start getting an idea of whether you enjoy the process. This can also help you meet professors and make connections! Department events are another great way to meet profs. And you can always email. Research can add so much to your experience in undergrad, and it is so so worth the awkward phase of emailing around. 

Benjamin Vonniessen

Can you give a brief summary of the work/review you submitted to MSURJ? 

MBG: SEA-PHAGES is an international program that focuses on the discovery and characterization of bacteriophages. Our cohort was the first at McGill to take part in this program. Over the Fall 2020 semester, we annotated the genome of the novel mycobacteriophage Blizzard with the help of a variety of bioinformatic tools, by determining the exact start coordinates and length of every gene, as well as the functions for many of them. In the summer of 2021, our genome annotation was officially accepted by GenBank after being revised by the SEA-PHAGES review board.

What is the importance of this work/review?

MBG: We are experiencing a global antibiotic resistance crisis and the pipeline to develop novel antibiotics is running dry. A potential solution is the administration of bacteriophage cocktails to patients with multidrug-resistant bacterial infections, such as mycobacteria. However, it is important to have a good understanding of bacteriophage genomes when selecting which ones to test in said cocktails. For example, some phages can be modified to be made more virulent, but to do so it is necessary to know where the genes of interest are found. That’s where SEA-PHAGES comes in: to date, almost 12 000 mycobacteriophages have been discovered, but only about a sixth of those have been sequenced, and even less have been annotated. By crowdsourcing bacteriophage annotation, the speed at which new genome annotations are available dramatically increases, and it becomes easier to find potential bacteriophages to test as therapeutics.

Cal Koger-Pease

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

MBG: As my first experience in publishing, this process has taught me a lot about the functioning and challenges of the reviewing process in publication, and now I have a better idea of what to expect when submitting research to journals outside school.

BC: While it was an exciting process, it also gave me a glimpse of what publishing a paper is like. I am usually a little shy; this publication with McGill’s first SEA-PHAGE cohort made me less apprehensive about the idea of publishing. It is definitely something I can refer to when I decide to publish outside of school.

BV: I think the writing and revising process has helped me identify places where I can improve my written skills and has given me the opportunity to see what publishing a paper is like!

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

MBG: Carrie Derick, a botanist who obtained her bachelor’s and Master’s at McGill. She was the first female university professor in Canada, and was also the founder of the Genetics Department at McGill. Outside of academia, Derick was a women’s rights advocate, and fought for women’s right to education, work, vote, and birth control.

A: Dr. Devi Sridhar, a public health professor, researcher, and author at the University of Edinburgh.

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Genome Annotation of Novel K1 Subcluster Mycobacteriophage Blizzard, part 2

Rafael Intrevado

Authors (part 2, to see part 1 go here)

Rafael Intrevado, U3 Microbiology and Immunology

Elizabeth Lapshina (she/her), U3 Honours Microbiology and Immunology

Michael Slattery (he/they), U3 Honours Microbiology and Immunology

Jamie Cyr (they/she), U3 Microbiology and Immunology

Daniella Serrador (she/her), U3 Honours Microbiology and Immunology

Isabel Kim (she/her), U3 Microbiology and Immunology

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad?

R: Having the opportunity to study Microbiology and Immunology only whets the appetite to contribute to science and make the world a better place. For me, and many of my peers, the desire to acquire hands-on experience all the while doing our part to solve the antibiotic resistance crisis was all the motivation we needed!

Elizabeth Lapshina

E: I have entertained the idea of research as a career since my first year of undergrad after chatting with professors and grad students. As a result, SEA-PHAGES became my first research opportunity and it served me as the best stepping stone to get into research and conduct my own research projects throughout my undergrad.

MS: In my first year, I was unsure whether I wanted to pursue medicine or science. I thought I wouldn’t know whether I would be fit for one over the other if I just stayed in the classroom. So near the end of my first year, I begged a lot of profs to let me in their lab. Most of them rejected me, except for the the Foulkes lab at the LDI. I then did a human genetics research project in the summer after first year and fell in love with the lab! And my love for research has not dwindled since. 

J: I started studying Microbiology and Immunology because I was excited about how many lab and research courses there are. I found this research opportunity, and other opportunities as well, by asking around in the MIMM department. I met Dr. Chahal at a MIMM event and was immediately on-board for the project.

D: I’ve always been very curious, and I see research as a way in which to satisfy my curiosity while generating data that could go on to help others. Going into McGill, I knew that I wanted to try out research in my undergraduate degree, so when I heard about the SEA-PHAGES project, I jumped at the opportunity. 

I: I have always wanted to contribute to new findings in the scientific field. I believe a small finding always has an influence in the world. For instance, annotating a bacteriophage can be a potential therapeutic target when treating patients with phage therapy.

Michael Slattery

Why is it important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

R: Undergraduate research allows students to hone their skills as scientists in a low-pressure environment. It’s the ideal place to develop creativity in tandem with work ethic, especially in preparation for graduate school.

E: I think it’s important to conduct research as an undergraduate because it enhances your theoretical studies with practical work and applications, especially in growing fields with many unknowns, and teaches you how to design experiments and think critically.

D: Research might be a path you want to follow, and you won’t know until you try! Even if it isn’t, it can teach you a lot of valuable skills, like critical thinking and searching for information. It also gives you an appreciation for all the work that goes into a project just to be heard as a five-second news headline. 

I: I believe it’s important for undergraduate students to conduct research to truly understand which area their passion lies in research and to know if they want to continue down the research path.

Jamie Cyr

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

R: Take as many lab classes as possible, and of course, try to get into MIMM 396 or 496. Many PIs also take in some undergraduate students, so talk to professors and apply to various labs.

E: Go chase every research opportunity out there! Big or small, every experience in a lab or through a research/lab course (XXXX396) will teach you how to think critically and apply your knowledge from class into real life experiments, while making meaningful contributions to the scientific world and building new professional and personal connections.

MS: Don’t be discouraged if professors do not respond to your emails or if you’re rejected! Getting a research position in undergrad of course does depend on your aptitude/grades etc but it also comes down to dumb luck. Start early if you can. And talk to the people in the lab before joining! You might love the professor’s work but maybe you won’t love the people that work in their lab.

J: The best, and simplest, way to find research opportunities is to meet with a lot of researchers in the MIMM department. If you feel particularly drawn to one professor’s work, reach out to them! It can be scary at first, but professors are almost always happy to talk to students about their work and even share opportunities.

D: Go for it! Email a lot of people, and don’t be discouraged if it takes you a while to find a position. A lot of clubs at McGill host events with tips for getting into research, which I personally found quite helpful. 

I: It might seem impossible, but trust yourself and your potential. Email as many professors as you can and make sure this email highlights your interest and passion. Never give up!

Daniella Serrador

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

R: It’s a great opportunity to learn how to make edits to papers based on feedback, a skill which features heavily in academia. It can be challenging to write a paper with nearly a dozen people, but it does practice your ability to make the dream work, so to speak.

E: The publishing process provided a small yet realistic window into how publishing in the scientific world works. That includes how to collaborate with fellow researchers, how to tell a scientific story, how to challenge your writing and the significance of your findings, and how to take feedback and incorporate it into your story. 

MS: It taught me the difficulties of publishing and what to expect in the future if I ever submit my own paper. 

J: The MIMM department at McGill has a lot of great research courses available. This experience was a bit different in that we’ve been continuing our work over a couple years. Getting to work with this group and see the project to completion has been a unique and special experience for me.

D: I learned a lot about writing throughout the process, both through editing with my co-authors and from the comments from the reviewers. All that writing and editing has definitely made me a stronger and more concise writer. 

I: I learned to see the importance of formatting and using concise language when writing scientific journal. It allowed me to see what it is like to collaborate with others as co-first authors.

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

Isabel Kim

R: A particular figure that many of us look up to is Dr. Graham Hatfull. As the creator of SEA-PHAGES and the progenitor of so many phage-research papers, Dr. Hatfull is both a source of inspiration and knowledge for me and the gang. 

E: I look up to Dr. Nargis Khan. Over the last 5 years, she has made impactful discoveries and advancement in the conceptual framework of immunity to TB-host resistance, disease tolerance and trained immunity. Her work ethic, perseverance and wisdom is exceptional.  

MS: I look up to Dr. Gabriel Victora. He started out as a pianist but is now a world-leading researcher in germinal centre B cell biology at Rockerfeller University. Most of his work is innovative and cutting-edge, and he’s a wonderful speaker!

D: Dr. Barry Marshall. Now, I’m not advocating for drinking bacterial broth, but I do look up to someone who is unafraid to challenge the dogma when their data shows something thought previously impossible. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

J: One of the best parts of our project was working with our course instructors. Dr. Chahal and Michael did an amazing job organizing the course and have been amazing mentors for me throughout my time at McGill.

D: I’d like to thank Dr. Jasmin Chahal and Michael Shamash, who’s guidance through this project was invaluable! 

I: I’d like to especially thank Dr. Jasmin Chahal and Michael Shamash who guided us through this research project. They have been my mentors and scientists to look up to. I am grateful to have met them through this project.

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Exploring differing host cutaneous microbiome and immune responses contributing to Chytridiomycosis susceptibility in amphibians

Connie Corbin

Author

Connie Corbin, BSc Natural Sciences, The Open University, graduated November 2021.

What prompted you to write the review article on your selected topic?

At the undergraduate level, what we learn is fairly broad in order to give a good base knowledge of a subject. I was excited by the idea of delving further into a topic of my own choosing. My main interest was in avian biology and conservation. Yet, whilst reading articles on this subject, I came across a completely unrelated article on the global decline of amphibians due to a fungal infection. I was instantly immersed and spent hours reading about it! So much fantastic research has been conducted on the disease, yet there were still so many unanswered questions. My research took off from there as I tried to make sense of a small branch of this complex disease.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

My experience was different  from many students as I obtained my undergraduate degree via distance learning. Being self motivated and having a genuine interest in your subject area is key, as it can be a long process! I would also suggest keeping an open mind. I never doubted that I wanted to study birds –  amphibians were never on my research radar – then one article changed my entire path in an instant!

Can you give a brief summary of the review you submitted to MSURJ? What is the importance of this review?

My review examined the research conducted on the emerging infectious disease, Chytridiomycosis. This disease first emerged in the 1970’s and spread globally. Many amphibian species have gone extinct as a result and many are declining. Research has been conducted for over 50 years but there are still many unanswered questions regarding why some species and populations are affected and others are not. Many variables are involved in this susceptibility variation. I chose to look specifically at the microbiome and immune systems of amphibians and how these may be a factor. Having read many research papers on the subject, it was clear how important review articles are on topics such as this. Time needs to be spent linking, comparing and contrasting results from different species and countries to further understanding.  

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

It was very interesting to see how peer review works and the type of feedback to expect when publishing an article. It has been a beneficial process to understand the steps the publishers take to get an article ready. The most time-consuming aspect of the process was having to change all my citations and references to a different system, one I had never used before!

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

Maria Sibylla Merian comes to mind! She combined her skills and passion for art and entomology, making some incredible discoveries and advances in her field. She not only drew in exceptional detail but also accurately described the life cycles of many species. Born in Germany in 1647, she was way ahead of her time, conducting research and even going on expeditions! Carl Linnaeus used her illustrations to identify many new species.

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Assessing Early Public Response to COVID-19-Related Restrictions in New York City Using Spatial Analysis of Urban Mobility Data

Emily Chen

Author

Emily Chen (she/her/elle), Urban Systems Geography, graduated Spring 2021

Why did you/how did you come to decide to conduct research as an undergrad? 

When I started university, I felt very intimidated by the idea of asking professors if I could work with them on their research. Not only did I not understand most of the research, but also I assumed that getting a research position as an undergrad was extremely competitive and that I needed to have a perfect GPA. However, I liked writing, and I decided in my third year that I wanted to write an undergraduate honours thesis. I had some ideas for what I could study and how I could pursue those ideas, but first, I needed to find an advisor willing to take me on as a student! I am very fortunate to have found a supervisor (Dr. Grant McKenzie in the Department of Geography) who not only shared my research interests but also was a fantastic mentor. Conducting and writing an entire honours thesis online during a global pandemic is not an ideal situation, and I felt very isolated at times. However, Dr. McKenzie was extremely supportive. He met with me each week to discuss ideas, debugged my code at all hours, and gave me enough autonomy to grow as a researcher and scientist. Having a good mentor in academia can often be the deciding factor for whether you like and want to continue in research or not, so I feel lucky to have learned what exemplary mentorship looks like, and I hope I can take some of what I learned when mentoring other students. 

Why is it important to conduct research/reviews as an undergraduate?

Conducting research as an undergraduate is, above all else, an opportunity to gain experience in asking questions few people (if any) have asked before and then try to answer them. From figuring out a good research question to writing the paper, science takes a long time, but it can be rewarding with the right mix of commitment to rigorous science, encouragement to think across disciplines, and mentorship. 

What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in getting research experience?

In most cases, you don’t need a perfect GPA. If you take the time to actually understand the research of whichever professor(s) you write to, your eagerness to learn should come through. Never write a generic email when expressing initial interest because they’re too busy to respond to people who don’t take the time to figure out if they might be a good fit in their lab. Lastly, just ask! If you don’t hear back, try again – or write to one of their students to ask if they need help. 

Can you give a brief summary of the work/review you submitted to MSURJ? 

The rapid spread of COVID-19 in the United States initiated shelter-in-place policies that significantly impacted human mobility and daily routines starting in March 2020. Using aggregated spatial mobility data from cellphones, this paper asks how human mobility patterns in New York City during the first three months of the pandemic differed based on socio-demographic factors like age, household income, and method of transportation to work. A secondary analysis determines if the four measurements of mobility used, namely distance traveled from home, home dwell time, non-home dwell time, and percentage time home, yielded significantly different findings. That there exist several significant differences in mobility patterns based on socio-demographics reinforces the need for physical distancing policies that acknowledge the demographic diversity present not only between but also within cities. 

What is the importance of this work/review?

I think this paper has two important takeaways. The first seems fairly obvious but is certainly emphasized from the findings here: cities are socio-demographically diverse and should be treated as such when implementing city, state/province, or federal policies. Lockdowns affect population groups differently, and taking those differences into account by implementing buffers against the negative effects (e.g., isolation) are important considerations. Secondly, large-scale datasets like mobility patterns from cellphones are a rich resource for inferring population behavior. Judging by the sheer volume of papers published using largescale data to analyze COVID-19 trends, researchers are starting to realize the benefits of these types of datasets, but these data can certainly be applied to other questions concerning public health and mobility. I hope more papers will continue to leverage largescale datasets to get at questions concerning population-level behavioral trends.   

How was the publishing/peer review process beneficial to you? 

David, who was the editor in charge of my paper, was amazing! He was so patient about communicating with me and making sure I had the support I needed to address the peer review comments. In terms of the peer reviewers, they were also fantastic. A friend of mine used to be one of the MSURJ editors, so I know how much work goes into finding peer reviewers who are not only willing to read and comment on a paper written by an undergraduate but also tend to be extremely busy experts in the paper’s field! The comments on my paper were extremely helpful as a second and third pair of eyes for parts that were confusing or poorly written. The reviewers’ comments on my figures were particularly useful, as they made suggestions that I hadn’t thought of previously but hopefully made the paper easier to understand. I really appreciated having the opportunity as an undergraduate to receive comments from reviewers and subsequently publish a peer-reviewed paper.  

Is there a scientist that you look up to? 

Hannah Fry – she’s a British mathematician and her title is “Professor in the Mathematics of Cities”! She also wrote a great book called “Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine.”   

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