Convocation Profile: A chat with Molly Henneberry

For as long as Molly Henneberry can remember, she has always wanted to know what gives some people “an edge” over others in competitive sport. This curiosity and interest in the science of sport landed her in the Bachelor of Kinesiology program in 2017, where she endeavored to learn more about sport performance.

Molly received more than she was hoping for during her time as a Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation (KSR) student. Taking advantage of the Undergraduate Research Certificate program designed specifically for KSR students, the St. Albert product was able to answer many of her questions around physiology, anatomy, biology, and the body’s ability to perform in different environments. She is now taking her keen research interests into the next stage of her life as she gets set to pursue a Masters of Science in Strength and Conditioning to continue to fulfill her curiosity about the science of sport.

What brought you to the University of Alberta?

The U of A has such a rich history and reputation of being an excellent school, and my mother is an alumna. I was actually following in her footsteps, pursuing a Bachelor of Education through the transfer program at MacEwan University, when I discovered that I could transfer to University of Alberta for kinesiology. I decided to take anatomy and physiology to see if I liked it, and the rest is history. 

What enticed you about research and what did you explore as part of the undergraduate research certificate? 

I discovered an interest in research in kinesiology in KIN 200 - Physiology of Exercise. I remember being blown away at how researchers could piece together a comprehensive picture of things like lactate threshold, VO2max, and all of exercise physiology. I always knew I liked science, but to me, it was all petri dishes and lab coats. This experience showed me the wide variety of research that goes on, and just how applied it can be. 

I reached out to Dr. Craig Steinback, as I saw that he did research on the effect of environmental stressors on the nervous system, in Nepal. As an avid hiker myself, having been at high altitude, I immediately wanted to get involved to understand the effects on the body. I ended up doing two summers of research in Dr. Steinback’s lab, studying the firing patterns of sympathetic neurons in low- and high-altitude natives, as well as in pregnant women. I was also in the lab of Dr. Martin Ferguson-Pell of Rehab Medicine for the past year, studying a link between osteoporosis in spinal cord injury patients and astronauts, along with other projects along the way. These experiences taught me so much about the world of research, and I also learned a lot from all the postdocs, grad students, and other undergrads in the lab. 

Tell us about your experiences with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC). Some of the key takeaways from my time with PLLC are that there are many different leadership styles, but in the modern world, those that hold compassion and caring about others at the forefront are going to be the most effective. I also learned by example, through my mentors who were willing to take chances on me and give me a helping hand on career advice and research placements, that it is important to always help the next generation. I hope to one day be one of those leaders, who helps another student like myself discover their passion, whatever that may be. 

What were some of the greatest challenges you faced as a student and how did you overcome these challenges?

One of the greatest challenges I faced as a student was my anxiety about not being good enough or smart enough. What helped me get over this was realizing just how much most instructors want to see their students succeed, and how passionate they are about these subjects. That helped me realize that I could ask questions, and that my profs and TA’s were there to support me, and genuinely want the best for students. I feel lucky to have been in a faculty with such great instructors.

Motivation also helped me get through my degree as I definitely took on a lot from my second to fourth years. I took on two extra degree certificates, volunteered, was president of a student group, and overloaded my courses while also being in a placement at the Sport Performance Centre. What motivated me was that these were all things I cared about deeply, and wanted to contribute to meaningfully. 

As you get ready to convocate, what career plans do you have for the future?

I will be pursuing my MSc in Strength and Conditioning—still waiting to hear back from one school! At the same time, I am working with Team Canada Women’s Sitting Volleyball on strength and conditioning in preparation for the 2021 Paralympic Games. 

What are you most proud of in your journey as a U of A/KSR student?

I think I am most proud of the relationships I’ve built. I hope that one day I can call some of my former prof’s colleagues, and I have made friends I know will be in my life forever. I think I grew up a lot over the last four years, and I learned how to build meaningful relationships with like-minded people.