Geology grad digs up success

For Ebberly MacLagan, not even the sky is the limit

Kristy Condon - 08 June 2016

The world has gotten a lot bigger for new geology grad Ebberly MacLagan over her past few years, taking her from the family farm to the top of her class at one of Canada's top five universities.

Growing up just south of the small town of Rolling Hills, AB, MacLagan grew up in a class of just seven core students until high school in the nearest city of Brooks. "I never really thought that I would see myself living in a big city or attending one of the biggest universities in Canada," she says. "However, I had been drawn to the study of geology for a long time and when I heard that the U of A was internationally known for its geology program, it seemed like the best place to go."

At some point in their childhoods, most children have a rock collection of some form-but MacLagan took this to a whole new level. "I actually can't remember a time when I wasn't collecting rocks," she says. "My parents used to joke that the rocks in my bedroom upstairs would cause the ceiling to fall in below."

It wasn't until junior high when she took a career personality quiz and first came across the term 'geologist'. "My top-listed career was a dentist, and I just laughed and moved on," she recalls. "Geologist was probably close to number 30 or 40 on the list, but I clicked it anyway and finally discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up. What other career lets you hammer, crush, cut, polish, or even taste rocks?"

In Grade 11 she was accepted to the WISEST summer research program and spent the following summer on campus working with graduate students in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. "I surprised myself when I fell in love with the U of A campus and with the City of Edmonton. That really cemented the decision to attend post-secondary here."

"I actually can't remember a time when I wasn't collecting rocks. My parents used to joke that the rocks in my bedroom upstairs would cause the ceiling to fall in below." -Ebberly MacLagan

One of the highlights of MacLagan's undergraduate experience was the opportunity to attend field schools and work alongside her peers to gain hands-on skills and experiences in some of Canda's most prominent geological features. The pinnacle of these was in a unique field school she attended in the Northwest Territories. "There were only 6 students on this trip, including myself, and so we had nearly one-on-one teaching experience. That isn't something that you usually get as an undergraduate student unless you are willing to seek it outside of the lecture time."

The school was led by professor Tom Chacko, who also came to be a mentor. "Tom taught me that geology is interpretation. I have a whole new perspective on maps and geological work than I did before that field school," she says.

She also drew inspiration from her undergraduate thesis supervisors, Erin Walton and Chris Herd, who encouraged her to set and achieve ambitious goals for herself. She says of her undergraduate research experience, "I had thought that as an undergraduate, I would not enjoy or even be able to work on something like this; now I am at the point where I am ready to submit to a journal."

"Chris and Erin showed me that even when I started out thinking that research was something that I couldn't do, with some guidance and hard work, great results can be achieved-even though I am 'just an undergraduate.'"

Undergraduate no more, MacLagan will graduate on June 14 with the Gold Medal in Science-the highest academic distinction for a graduating student in a specialization program. She isn't going far, though, as she will continue at the U of A in September to pursue a master's degree in ancient meteorite structure.