Megan LaRocque

3MT 2024 Finalist Megan LaRocque

Biological Sciences, Natural + Applied Sciences

Thesis: To Go or Not to Go

Introduce yourself:

I am a first-year M.Sc. student in Dr. Kimberley Mathot’s lab. A recent B.Sc. and B.Ed. University of Alberta graduate, I have a passion for teaching, learning, and all things science. I never envisioned myself as a researcher (actually, never knew the possibility existed!), but every day I wake up and feel incredibly blessed to have the best job in the world! When I am not running statistical analyses or in the field refilling bird feeders with seeds, you will likely find me running a marathon or in the backcountry refilling my backpack with camping equipment.

What are you researching and what do you hope comes out of your research?

My thesis focuses on understanding the extent to which black-capped chickadees use information from flock mates to inform decisions on whether they should personally inspect feeders for food. Will a chickadee inspect a feeder itself, or instead watch a flock mate inspect the feeder, deciding to not visit the feeder if the flock mate leaves with no food in beak? I hope to better understand how chickadees use social and personal information to help them survive the harsh winters of Alberta. Furthermore, I hope this research enhances understanding about how animals make decisions in a rapidly changing environment.

How does presenting a Three Minute Thesis (3MT) help you to explain your research to the public?

I recently learned that the word “jargon” is derived from Old French for the “chattering of birds”. Presenting a 3MT made me realize how much scientific communication is “bird chattering”; confusing to other scientists, let alone non-scientific audiences. My passion for educating has developed within me a desire to make all science accessible. In preparing for the 3MT, I was reminded of the importance of carefully selecting background information, creating metaphors to enhance relatability, and using words that are digestible to any audience. Ultimately the 3MT taught me how to turn tuneless bird chatter into memorable melodious birdsong.

What inspires you to do research?

I am continually blown away that I get to wake up every day and simply be curious about the world around me. Doing research means you get a job where questions are encouraged and “answers” (if you ever find them) only lead to more questions. I feel honoured to contribute my curiosity to the breadth of knowledge about the world in which we live. I am continuously inspired by my mentors and colleagues with whom I get to collaborate. Also…I would be lying if I didn’t say that studying the cutest bird in Alberta is a factor…

What are three key words important to your 3MT?

Black-capped chickadees, personal information, social information.

How does your research impact local, provincial, or global communities?

Interest in backyard birds is common not only in Alberta, but around the world. From bird feeding to watching, birds have been so integrated into the human experience that most people could name at least one. In Alberta, black-capped chickadees are a recognizable species. Their distinct “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” comes as a light tune amidst cold, dreary winters. This research will not only help ecologists understand how these small birds survive harsh winter conditions, but also increase public appreciation for backyard birds and hopefully spark interest into the variety of behaviours birds adopt to survive in their unique environments.

If you had to dedicate your research to anyone from the past, present, or future, who would it be and why?

I would like to dedicate my research to my past, present, and future students. You continue to develop within me a passion for teaching and knowledge sharing and allow me to pursue my passion for education, while nurturing my love for science. Whether it’s in class or a tutoring session, you remind me of the importance of asking the big question: Why? Thank you for being my lab rats, as I will forever strive to enhance my ability to explain and instruct. I hope this research sparks curiosity and inspires you to make learning a lifelong adventure.

Megan LaRocque – To Go or Not to Go

Watch Megan's Three Minute Thesis