Megan Nantel is an alumna of Science World’s Future Science Leaders (FSL) program. Her experience in the program helped to shape her future career in the sciences, which made a sudden shift from life sciences to physics and engineering. She is currently studying engineering at the Max Planck Institute in Germany on a team that is working on building a mass spectrometer to use with a picosecond infrared laser. Pretty amazing, right?
We caught up with Megan by email to find out what she’s up to these days and what she thought about her Future Science Leaders experience.
SW: What prompted you to sign-up for Future Science Leaders?
I was enjoying my science courses a lot in secondary school, but I wanted to do something more outside of the classroom. I wanted more challenges and I wanted to explore my options. I’m the type of person who is happy doing a lot of things, so I wanted to get more experience in the areas of science. I didn’t really have any adults in my life that worked in academia or engineering, so I didn’t have a good grasp of what it meant to be in a STEM career. FSL let me investigate how I felt about different areas of science, while meeting great people along the way.
SW: These days, you’re studying engineering at the Max Planck Institute. Did you know that you wanted to go into engineering before joining the Future Science Leaders program?
Engineering was a big shift from what I had envisioned myself doing when I was in grade 11 and starting FSL. I’ve always liked a lot of things, which has made it hard to narrow down my focus; I could see myself being happy in so many different careers. As I entered FSL, I was more interested in biology but I accredit that to a lack of information. Biology and chemistry are the typical sciences we take in high school and we see in the media whereas I always though of engineering as a mysterious science. I didn’t really know what it meant to be an engineer or what engineers did on a day-to-day basis! And to be honest, I’m still figuring it out!
SW: Is there a moment that really stands out for you as a student in the program—an “ah-ha” moment or something you liked more than you thought you would?
Most of my “ah-ha” moments have to do with the science fair project I did in my grade 12 year. I was in the second year stream of FSL, where we were encouraged to do independent projects. I had only ever done science fairs as class assignments but I really wanted to do a project on my own terms. In particular, when doing this project, I learned how much I liked doing hands-on work and discussing research and ideas with other students. The experience of doing a science fair project opened my eyes to research as a career and I couldn’t have made it as far as I did without FSL’s support.
SW: You went on to work/study at the Max-Planck Institute in Germany. How exciting! How did you get connected to the institute and what are you working on there?
The group that I have the pleasure to be working with is building a mass spectrometer to use with a picosecond infrared laser. My supervisor, Dr Wesley Robertson, is great at explaining the science behind how we are building the mass spectrometer. It’s been a nice combination between science and engineering, a perfect placement for me as an engineering physics student. One of the things I love about academia is how scientists view the importance of helping the younger scientific community develop new skills. I first noticed this in Future Science Leaders and I am experiencing it again at the Max Planck Institute.
My main project has been designing a sample holder that will be used in the mass spectrometer. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m very excited to think that something I designed will become such an essential part of the machine!
SW: What would you say to someone who is considering entering the FSL program?
I learned so much about public speaking, presenting research, writing scientific reports, doing lab work and even about myself as a person. Besides all the wonderful things I gained, participating in the science fair opened so many doors for me. I got to travel for competitions and meet amazing students. It influenced my choice in university.
I would want people to know that this program is truly what you make of it. Opportunities, connections and new friends will be surrounding you all the time. You’d be in a perfect setting to build some great relationships and try new things. If you’re willing to make a solid commitment, there are many mentors who’ll be willing to help you.
I would also say to keep an open mind to all the lectures, activities and life in general. This will help you be a better learner, thinker and you may also discover a new interest!
We’re looking for the next generation of Future Science Leaders.
Love science? Crave challenging, hands-on experiments? Want to meet peers with the same passion for inquiry? Future Science Leaders could be for you. Registration is open now.