Convocation ‘22: Leanne Petro, BSc with Specialization, Biological Sciences

Connecting with research in the lab and in the field.

Donna McKinnon - 06 June 2022

Leanne Petro developed a passion for research as a student in biological sciences where, in addition to full time studies and a full time job (including science outreach at Jurassic Forest!), she volunteered in labs to gain as much experience as possible.

Hooked on ecology and entomology, Leanne’s honors thesis tested a 40-year old hypothesis of the effect of flight on the response to chemical cues in the mountain pine beetle. Her findings, says biological sciences researcher Maya Evenden, will have both scientific and management impacts on this ecologically and economically important component of western pine forests.

Leanne will begin a masters program in the fall, expanding on her mountain pine beetle undergraduate research.

Congratulations Leanne!

What led you to pick the U of A?
I was drawn to the University of Alberta because of its reputation as a top Canadian research school and its appealing program options. I was hooked by the location of the city of Edmonton, nestled between the Rocky Mountains and my hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?
My favourite memories included all of the moments where I got to connect with research. The experiential components of the BIOL 208 (Principles of Ecology) and ENT 220 (Insect Biology) labs really got me hooked into the field of ecology as well as connecting me with wonderful teaching assistants. Volunteering in labs and completing my BIOL 499 research project (on the effect of energy usage on the response of the mountain pine beetle to host airborne volatiles) were highlights of my time in undergrad.

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program?
As an out of province student, I faced a lot of financial difficulties during the first two years of my program. I was working up to 35 hours a week and studying in between helping customers at my retail job. Eventually, I was able to move my hard work to the summer months, and this in combination with receiving more bursary funding allowed me to really focus on my studies in my final years.

My family also experienced many changes and hardships: loss, addiction and mental health challenges. Coupled with COVID-19 disruptions to both my personal, school and work life, motivation became tough. I was thankful that I had developed a diverse support system. Surrounding myself with like-minded individuals in all facets of my day-to-day life helped me to keep going, while also giving myself the breaks I needed.

What advice do you have for current and future students?
1) Diversify your support system! Get involved in multiple hobbies and interests. The more support bubbles you have, the more you can lean on one when you face difficulties in another.

2) Remember you are not just a student. Try to maintain a fulfilling life outside of your role as a student. Developing as a person will help you in both your professional and personal life.

3) Find what type of learning suits you and tailor your studying to it. Focus on quality of study time over quantity of study time.

4) Apply to as many funding opportunities as you can. Even if it seems that you may not be qualified, give it a shot!

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?
I will be celebrating my graduation with my family over some nice dinners out, some travel later on in the summer, and hopefully ending convocation day curled up on the couch with my cats.

What's next after graduation?
I will be continuing my studies in a masters program in the Department of Biological Sciences at the U of A beginning in Fall 2022, where I will be researching the dispersal and chemical ecology of the mountain pine beetle in the Evenden Lab. I am excited to dive into research, as well as serving as a teaching assistant to undergraduate students. I am very thankful to be in such a welcoming and supportive lab filled with such talented members.