March 6, 2024

Student finds her passion in an unexpected place: UCalgary summer program

How 3 summers inspired master’s candidate Megan Harmon to pursue a career in data science and health research
Megan Harmon, taking part in the Summer Studentship Program with the Centre for Health Informatics
Megan Harmon

In March 2020, during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Calgary turned to the experts at the Centre for Health Informatics (CHI) to create a COVID-19 tracking tool. Four years later, the CHI COVID tracker continues to be used for evidence-based policy decisions and, in 2021, UCalgary student Megan Harmon was right in the middle of the action as a summer research student at CHI. 

“The COVID tracker was one of the first research projects I worked on as a summer student,” says Harmon.  

The tracker was just one of the projects Harmon played a role in during her time in CHI’s Summer Studentship Program. Harmon, BA’23, now pursuing her master’s in community health sciences, specializing in biostatistics, completed her third year in the program last August thanks to funding from CHI’s Research and Education Excellence Fund. 

“It was special to be involved in such relevant research and rewarding to be able to contribute to a solution,” Harmon says. 

The Summer Studentship Program was conceived in 2020 as a way for students to immerse themselves in both the data science and health informatics fields through experiential learning, with hopes of inspiring participants to pursue a related career. It is just one of the many undergraduate research summer studentship programs available to UCalgary students.  

Another summer, another opportunity to grow  

After a successful first year, Harmon returned to the program for another summer of work with the CHI in 2022, which led her to an impressive career milestone — her first lead-author article. 

The article compared existing Canadian and provincial guidelines on the use of immunoglobulin (IG) products and examined the existing research in Canada on IG supply and utilization following the establishment of IG guidelines, with the aim of understanding the scope of research and pinpointing gaps.  

“It was a topic I was interested in and, when given the chance to take the lead on the project with a great team, I couldn’t resist,” says Harmon.  

“That article was the biggest achievement during my time in the program.” 

Learning from industry experts 

During her time as a summer research student, Harmon worked directly with Dr. Tyler Williamson, BSc’05, PhD’11, director of CHI and member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, O’Brien Institute of Public Health and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. 

Learning from an industry professional such as Williamson gave Harmon direct insight into the field from someone passionate about the work and research they are conducting.  

Her work ethic and professionalism throughout the program has now led to her helping support our incoming 2024 summer students as she completes an MSc in biostatistics,” says Williamson. “Megan has been a role model in the summer student program for many years now. She has paved the way for Bachelor of Arts students who are interested in the health research field.”    

Continuing to advocate for the program 

Harmon was surprised by how the pieces came into place as she was looking for her next step after graduation from her bachelor’s program.  

“I sent an email to Dr. Williamson and, within a couple of back-and-forth exchanges, I was offered the job and started that summer,” she says. 

As she pursues her master's degree, Harmon hopes to continue to be an advocate for the Summer Studentship Program. When asked for her advice to any prospective students thinking about a pursuing summer research, Harmon emphasizes they should let no stone go unturned. 

“Coming into my first year of the program, I had no idea what biostatistics was or an inkling of the work going on at the CHI,” she says. “Now working on my master's in the field, it just shows that you can find your passion in such unexpected places. It’s so important to pursue different options.” 

Undergraduate Research Summer Studentships provide up to $7,500 of financial support to University of Calgary undergraduates to conduct research for eight, 12 or 16 weeks between May and August. With an opportunity to learn from on-campus experts about how research projects are developed, students learn how their results can contribute to new knowledge and have an impact in the world. 

Undergraduate research is a unique opportunity for students to develop skills, explore interests, and learn how to collaborate, communicate, and think critically and creatively outside the classroom. 

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