Glendon College is the ideal place to conduct undergraduate research. Fourth-year Specialized Honours in Biology student Megan Schwegel has had the exciting opportunity to conduct research every single year of her undergraduate degree. An alumna of the Research Apprenticeship Program, Schwegel is now writing her undergraduate thesis under the supervision of Dr. Valerie Schoof. 


The Research Apprenticeship Program (RAP) is an exciting and enriching program for Glendon’s Top Scholars, under the banner of the g21 program, to gain hands-on research experience. These promising students are paired with Glendon’s professors where they gain essential research skills that prepare them for pursuing graduate studies at top universities and other career paths. Schwegel started her research career working with Dr. Kristoffer Romero and Dr. Guy Proulx from Glendon’s Psychology Department. In this role, she assisted with a project on healthy aging in individuals where she facilitated the administration of a psychological test to elderly community members.


Megan Schwegel smiling. Megan Schwegel qui sourit.The following summer, Schwegel undertook her second research project at Glendon, this time in the Biology Department. Schwegel worked with Yuan “Emma” Joo on a study of killdeer (a kind of shorebird) for Dr. Laura McKinnon that included tracking nesting sites in Toronto parks. Through this work, as well as in an estuarine (relating to estuaries, of, relating to, or formed in an estuary, which is the place where a tide meets a steeam and two bodies of water collide) ecology field course with Dr. McKinnon, Schwegel gained practical skills in techniques for gathering data on birds, seals, intertidal invertebrates and plants. 


Schwegel continues to study other living organisms under the guidance of Dr. Valerie Schoof. In the summer of 2018, she was awarded a prestigious Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award to study vervet monkeys in Uganda. The study focused on the sociosexual and foraging behaviour of adult females and the interactions between the females and their infants. Schwegel describes her fondest memory of her research trip as “waking up the first morning at the Lake Nabugabo Research Centre in Uganda and finding [her] study subjects (the vervet monkeys) were right outside [her] living quarters” because “it represented the start of a very productive and enjoyable summer.” 


While in Uganda, Schwegel worked with PhD student Kyle Hendrikson, and honed her technical skills related to fieldwork, such as how to take measurements of variables, extract hormones from fecal samples, and conduct focal follows. She also learned some statistical analysis techniques and improved her abilities in evaluating sources. Schwegel credits her research experiences as showing her the possibilities for many different career paths. She invites other students to “not be afraid to ask about opportunities [to research at the undergraduate level] and keep an open mind” because they could end up enjoying a project that differs from their majors.


Indeed, Schwegel arrived at Glendon thinking she would go on to study optometry but is now open to other opportunities. For the time being, she is hard at work on her thesis using vervet monkey data and studying the breeding seasonality of this population of monkeys and its correlation to food availability. Regardless of her next steps, the future is bright for Schwegel.