Of students, pandemics, science field study, and conferences

Saint Michael's presenters take part in Northeast Natural History Conference using a virtual setting this year, sharing about earlier data gathered in lakes, streams and Natural Area

April 20, 2021
Declan McCabe
Professor of Biology

Student researchers gather samples in a stream.

Professor Declan McCabe of the Saint Michael’s biology faculty recently shared about signature aspects of studying science at the College: Namely, the opportunity for students to do field study in area lakes, streams and the College Natural Area, and then the chance to present their research results at academic conferences. Happily, even the pandemic did not shut down the chance to present research entirely. Here is Professor McCabe’s report:

You may think that lockdowns, social distancing, and travel restrictions would have entirely eliminated academic conferences. But not so fast!

Saint Michael’s College student researchers regularly present their research at scientific conferences both national and international. The pandemic has necessarily put a crimp in travel plans, but that has not prevented active participation in scientific conferences.

ice fish

Ice fishing for biology class.

This month (April 2021), twelve Saint Michael’s College undergraduate students and their mentors participated in the Northeast Natural History Conference. To do this both safely and legally, the conference was held virtually. Our students have become Zoom experts in the past 12 months and were more than up to the task of producing professional presentations.

In addition to conducting their research, gathering and analyzing data, and making slides and posters, the virtual conference required an additional task: to ensure accessibility, all presentations had to be prerecorded and subtitled.

Our students rose to the occasion like the professionals that they are and the presentations were submitted on deadline.  During the tightly scheduled conference, each student gave a brief introduction, his or her presentation was played, and then he or she fielded questions from conference participants from all over the United States, Canada, and farther afield.


Student researchers on a boat in Lake Champlain.

The conference topics varied broadly, but the Saint Michael’s College students presented work on parasitic infections of bobcat, Lake Champlain macroinvertebrates, and mammals of the Champlain Valley. Conference presentations are the culmination of months and sometimes years of research that often has involved getting out in the woods and waterways of the region, as shown in these images I took in recent years on Lake Champlain, in streams and in the College Natural Area, and represent an important pinnacle of achievement. See more photos of past field research by Saint Michael’s students in this gallery.

But in 2020, this achievement was postponed by the last-minute cancelation of this and many other conferences. And so Owen Sanborn, Brynn Clory and Geoffrey Stewart from the class of 2020 were invited back to represent Saint Michael’s at the conference.  Biology Professor Dagan Loisel and I were the mentors for these presentations, and Janel Roberge ’12 from EPSCoR also presented. My mammal group also brought a community partner from Burlington’s Intervale.

trail cams

Setting up trail cameras in the College Natural Area.

Our class of 2020 representatives were joined at the conference by current students Kayla Riordan, Julia Bowen, Lilia Deangelis, Caleb Moffett, Nadia Racz, Timothy Strzepa, Samantha Callaway, Megan McCauley, and Lauren Walsh from the class of 2019. Congratulations to all of these students and graduates on their remarkable achievements and for persevering in the face of adversity.

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