Melissa Dilney

The Lab Life

While many students are getting ready for a relaxing summer break, Melissa Dilney from Sydney Forks, N.S., is preparing for a season filled with research, volunteering, work and more.

After completing the French Immersion program at Université Sainte Anne, Melissa joined the CBU community by enrolling in the Bachelor of Science program, focusing on Biology. “I loved the atmosphere of a small university, so that was one of the main reasons why I chose CBU,” says Melissa. “The advantages of a small university are endless. The small student to professor ratio in the classrooms and labs is really important to me.”

feature-student-melissa-dilney01In many ways it is evident that at CBU, Melissa is not just a number. She’s getting one-on-one experience doing research with Dr. Sean Modesto, Associate Professor and Chair of the Biology Department. Under the supervision of Dr. Modesto, Melissa has been working in the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab where she has been able to learn the techniques of prepping a fossil that is embedded in rock. “I am getting to use special equipment called a stereo-microscope to magnify the specimen, along with airscribes and pin vises to remove the matrix away from the bone,” says Melissa. “The Procolophon fossil (a lizard-like reptile from South Africa) that I have been practicing with this past month is known as ‘scrap’ because it is a fairly common and well-studied animal, which is good for beginners, like me.”

Recently, Dr. Modesto traveled to Chicago, Illinois to obtain a tooth plate with multiple rows of teeth from the early reptile group, Captorhinidae. This will be the focus of Melissa’s next project. “Knowledge of the anatomy and phylogeny of these extinct, basal reptiles is important to investigate the macro-evolutionary history of higher taxonomic groupings, including extant reptile species,” she explains.

“Science was always my favourite subject in grade school,” says Melissa. “I love the hands-on learning in the labs that helps you understand the theory component of the lectures. I think it is important to study a subject you love in school so that you will stay motivated and interested, and eventually excel.”

Her research involvement at CBU isn’t only giving her experience, but also the skills it will take for her to excel in her field. “I think that being involved with a research project is allowing me to get the most out of my science degree here at CBU,” she explains.

While Melissa digs further into her favourite subject, she is also inserting herself into other activities on campus. Being involved in the Biology and Pre-Med Society, Melissa is branching out from the lab and is becoming quite involved with her fellow Capers. “Being in societies has helped me meet other students with the same interests as me and make new friends.” After being the only CBU student this year to give an oral presentation with Dalhousie students of the John Stewart: History of Medicine society, Melissa has been inspired to work with a friend and create a similar society here at CBU. She is excited to plan various events and fundraisers.

Additionally, Melissa has been nominated to be a student representative with the biology department next year. ”I am really excited to be involved with that this year,” she says.
Melissa certainly is making the most of her CBU experience, and says attending a small university has helped make her experiences possible. “I believe there are more opportunities at CBU for me than at a larger university, where I have fewer students trying to accomplish the same things as me.” She also says her professors here at CBU continue to be supportive and encouraging. “All of my professors and lab instructors know me by name and are always willing to offer each student individual help when it is needed. Even if I am just looking for some advice, they will always schedule a time to talk with me right away.”

With one year left at CBU, Melissa is definitely going to make it count. Through her involvement, studies and research experience, it is evident that CBU has prepared her for her next step. After graduating with a BSc Melissa plans on continuing her education in the health care field.

Melissa is a presenter in the Student Research Series, which is being held each Wednesday throughout the summer.