Students at Cape Breton University have the unique opportunity to participate in hands-on research at the undergraduate level, something that Bachelor of Science student Sarah Boudreau says really sets the University apart.
Currently in her third year of the program, Sarah is putting her Chemistry major to work this summer, developing her skills as a research assistant alongside Dr. Matthias Bierenstiel.
Originally from Petit de Grat, Cape Breton, Sarah came to CBU to maintain the small-town comforts of the Island, combined with the top notch opportunities offered in the Science program. “CBU doesn’t have a reputation as a party-school,” says Sarah. “I feel as though I belong to a community of people who genuinely care for each other and would go out of their way to help one another.”
When she’s not in class or working in the lab, Sarah participates in a range of extracurricular activities from volleyball and house council, to working as a residence assistant and leading the Chemistry Society. She says it’s incredibly beneficial for students to get involved in campus life. “You can learn so many skills by doing so, including how to work well with others,” says Sarah. “Not only are you building your resume, but you’re provided with the opportunity to get to know people and make new friends.”
Always on the lookout for new experiences, Sarah found herself interested in the research work of Dr. Bierenstiel, and approached him about the potential of taking her on as a research assistant. He was happy to oblige and Sarah is now participating in his work on the healing properties of birch bark-oil. “The fact that birch bark-oil may be used in the future as an antibiotic is incredible,” says Sarah. “I am so thrilled to be working on this project that could help many people.”
In her role as a research assistant, Sarah produces birch bark-oil in the lab on campus, analyzing the product and testing its reproducibility. She recently compiled her work into a poster presentation, which she presented at the Science Atlantic conference earlier this year. Sarah’s presentation earned her the Canadian Institute of Chemistry Award for the Best Undergraduate Poster Presentation in Biological or Medicinal Chemistry. “It was so amazing to be awarded the best poster presentation in my division,” says Sarah. “I’m very passionate about my research, so I really enjoyed the experience.” Next, she will be presenting her work in the coming weeks as part of the Student Research Lecture Series at CBU.
Sarah says it’s crucial for students to gain research experience during their undergraduate studies, as it gives students a leg up in the industry. “Employers and academics enjoy seeing candidates with experience in their field, and it gives you the chance to test things out and decide if you’re truly interested in a particular area of study,” she says. “The research work I’ve been doing this summer has pushed my interest in completing my Master’s and PhD following my undergrad.”
One piece of advice Sarah wants to share with CBU students is to put themselves out there and be open to research opportunities. “CBU is a great university for research. We have great labs, high-quality equipment and professors who are willing and able to accommodate research students.”