Sept. 1, 2020

Youth complete health research program amid pandemic restrictions

Alberta Innovates High School Youth Research Summer program concludes with virtual research symposium

Although 2020 marks the 21st year of the Alberta Innovates High School Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program at the University of Calgary, this year’s cohort of 25 Grade 11 students were the first to embark on their research journey in a remote format. For six weeks, HYRS participants worked under the guidance of a faculty member to complete individual health research projects without stepping foot on campus.

“This summer I was immersed in the research world without ever leaving my desk,” notes Jessie Shang, a HYRS participant from Western Canada High School.

Twenty-five UCalgary faculty members spanning seven faculties — the Cumming School of Medicine, the Schulich School of Engineering, the Werklund School of Education, Nursing, Arts, Kinesiology, and Veterinary Medicine — dedicated themselves to mentoring an aspiring health researcher.

From investigating the role of B cells in multiple sclerosis, to assessing vaping regulations, to studying how genes and drugs interact, students gained experience in health research techniques to help prepare for a potential future career in research. “I learned basics like using proper search syntax in online databases, reading and summarizing scientific papers, and running statistical tests. HYRS has definitely provided me with the building blocks for university life,” says Shang, who worked under the supervision of Dr. Ranita Manocha in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences.

More than research projects

Throughout the HYRS program, students spent most of their time engaging with their individual projects. However, the program at its core aims to introduce students to various career opportunities in research. Twelve guest speakers from a variety of backgrounds, such as biomedical engineering, data visualization, and research ethics, shared their career journeys and expertise with the cohort. 

Having the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals is another key component of the HYRS program. Students spent the six weeks getting to know each other and interacting with HYRS alumni on several occasions, all over Zoom. “I feel that each one of us is unique and brings different passions and ideas to the table, and I had a great time getting to know everybody in the program,” notes HYRS participant Parthiv Maneesh from Westmount Charter School.

Interactive lunch-and-learn sessions on topics like applying for scholarships, creating a CV, and designing and delivering scientific presentations were all adapted to an online format. “I came into this program wanting to pursue research because I love science. After completing the program, because of the people I met and the connections I made in just six weeks, I know that research is something I will always integrate into my career,” states Sumair Shergill, from Renert School.

HYRS student zoom call

Creating an online community

Following countless Zoom sessions, the cohort gathered once more for the Virtual Research Symposium which spanned Aug. 13 to 14. Students presented the findings of their research projects to family, friends, and the UCalgary community. “I felt like I made a contribution to scientific advancements, which is something that would not have been possible to do from a high school classroom,” notes Dhruva Patel, a student at Bert Church High School in Airdrie.

The 25 HYRS participants were selected from a pool of 157 applicants by an adjudication committee of Calgary high school math and science teachers and UCalgary postdoctoral scholars. The HYRS 2020 cohort represent 18 schools from across central Alberta.  

Learn more about the HYRS program, or contact Cameron Vanderwey for more information. Applications for the 2021 program will be launched in early 2021, pending renewal of program funding.