Celebrating the graduates of Fall 2021: Michael Armstrong

Meet some of the amazing members of the graduating class of Fall 2021 from the Faculty of Science.

Andrew Lyle - 16 November 2021

Meet Michael Armstrong, member of the class of Fall 2021, graduating with a PhD from the Department of Chemistry

Meet Michael Armstrong, member of the class of Fall 2021, graduating with a PhD from the Department of Chemistry

This year, the University of Alberta is celebrating the achievements of our graduates with a virtual convocation ceremony on November 19. As we acknowledge the achievements of our graduating class, we’re sharing just a few of the amazing stories of our graduates.

This week, Michael Armstrong graduates with a PhD from the Department of Chemistry. Hear from him on forging an early connection to the U of A campus, his experience with research opportunities, and tips for fellow students on building your own groundwork for research success early.

Congratulations, Michael! 

What led you to pick the University of Alberta for your studies?

Besides Edmonton being my home town, I’ve always had a fondness for the U of A North Campus. I attended the Child Study Centre for Kindergarten and part of Grade 1, which used to be located in the Ring Houses close to the Engineering Quad. I’ve also spent most of my childhood living around the area, so it seemed like the natural next step following high school. But practically speaking, since I didn’t know at first what I wanted to study, attending an institution that was close to home allowed me to take some risks and try out a number of different courses before settling on one major.

Tell us about your experience in the Faculty of Science.

I actually began my studies at the U of A as an undergraduate in the Faculty of Arts, studying classical languages and philosophy. I eventually graduated with a BSc. with a specialization in chemistry in 2016, after transferring to the Faculty of Science in 2012.

When it came time to choose a research group for graduate school, I was very interested in the theoretical aspects of chemical separations. I was offered an applied project in Dr. James Harynuk’s lab as a master’s student working with an advanced separations technique. I applied to the PhD program when I realized that while the physics of chemical separations were relatively well-characterized, there were still a lot of unanswered questions related to the analysis and interpretation of the resultant data. The specialization concerned with these problems, chemometrics, is only really practised at a few institutions in Canada, one of which is the U of A.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?

I ran into my wife (then just an acquaintance) on her way home from Grant MacEwan University and we ended up spending our breaks together at Dewey’s.

What advice do you have for current and future students in the Faculty of Science?

If you’re interested in research, take as many mathematics courses as you possibly can. If you’re worried about your grades, then take them during the spring and summer as early in your degree as possible. I got into graduate school thanks to my laboratory skills, but I couldn’t have finished my thesis without what I learned in my mathematics courses. 

How have you spent your time during COVID-19 distancing?

The pandemic struck at a critical moment during my graduate studies, but I tried to make the best out of a bad situation and worked a lot on developing new algorithms for analysing the large volumes of data I had accumulated during the first three years of my graduate work. I am grateful that some of the algorithms work very well, and ended up forming the basis of my thesis. 

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?

I wasn’t actually able to attend my undergraduate convocation, since I was on a research exchange program in China at the time. So I am very happy that I will be able to attend this year’s convocation, regardless of the format. I think I would like to spend some time with my family. My sister is also graduating this year from the U of A with a BSc. in mechanical engineering, and I am very proud of her.

What's next after graduation?

I am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in my graduate supervisor’s lab, working on collecting and analyzing some new data to do with environmental analysis. I am also finishing up some of the work I started during my PhD. I am also exploring a few opportunities related to data science consulting during my spare time.