It feels a little obvious to say someone’s science degree was filled with science, but for Megan Molnar, that’s the best way to describe her UVic experience.
Now a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and marine science, Molnar has spent five years at UVic studying science in the classroom, conducting scientific research in the lab and on the water, and spending her extracurricular time on “Let’s Talk Science.” I spent time at , an on-campus science support organization.
“My parents are in science education, so I grew up surrounded by science,” she says. “I’ve always thought of science as something approachable, not scary. Even as a child, I enjoyed being at the seaside and always sticking my hand in the tide pools and seeing what I could find.”
Molnar was one of the first students to enroll in a program that combined chemistry and marine science, and says it was a perfect fit as it combines her interests in chemistry and physics through an environmental lens.
“This degree has allowed me to spend a lot of time outdoors doing fieldwork, which I love. I also love coding, which is often used to process large amounts of data in research. “I realized something,” she explains enthusiastically.
Rich research experience
Molnar is no stranger to research and is graduating after completing four collaborative research periods and an honors project, each in a different lab. Most of her opportunities came as a result of her cold emailing people with interesting research.
She spent one summer working at her home in Saskatoon with a professor at the University of Saskatchewan conducting literature research on microplastics and Raman spectroscopy (a type of chemical analysis), and another summer working with Heather Buckley in Victoria. Conducted pure environmental chemistry in the chamber. She is a UVIC civil engineering professor and environmental chemist.
Molnar is also collaborating with Earth and Ocean Sciences Professor Jay Cullen on ocean geochemistry, with a focus on tracking radioactive isotopes from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. She completed an honors project with Roberta Hamme, investigating productivity in Saanich Bay over the summer. She plans to continue her research and publish her findings this fall.
Most recently, she spent her final term with the Cooperative, working as a marine research technician at the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans’ Institute of Marine Science, giving her her first taste of research in a government agency.
“I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades and a jack-of-all-trades,” she says. “Working in different labs was interesting and helpful in thinking about what to do next.”
As a member of Cullen’s lab, Molnar had the opportunity to travel to the Arctic on the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfred Laurier. She spent three weeks on a boat, traveling from Victoria through the North Pacific to the top of Alaska. Along the way, she collected and analyzed water samples to measure the concentrations of different isotopes in different regions.
“I had a great time on the Laurier. The fieldwork environment is very intensive, you’re always working hard, but you’re always doing everything together. You get to know the crew right away. It was fun to see the variety of projects and learn what other people on the boat were doing. Plus, the whole trip was really beautiful.”
Passion for popularizing science
In addition to studying and working in the lab, Molnar spent a significant amount of time doing outreach through “Let’s Talk Science” during her degree. She began volunteering with the organization during her first year, visiting local K-12 classrooms and sharing fun science experiments and activities. In 2021 she was hired as the group’s regional outreach coordinator to manage the organization’s volunteers and coordinate classroom visits across Victoria.
“I got a lot out of the Let’s Talk Science role in terms of experience and skill-building. When I started working as a community outreach coordinator, I was able to work with teachers, manage volunteers, I didn’t have the skills for many of the tasks I was responsible for, such as sending newsletters, creating budgets, and booking rooms. I learned quickly on the job.”
Molnar’s role with Let’s Talk Science took her to Quadra Island for a multi-day outreach effort and to Vancouver last spring for a regional conference. She planned several different on-campus events for local middle school and high school students. These included a safe drinking water symposium in collaboration with Heather Buckley and a symposium focused on biological/marine acoustics in collaboration with UVic’s Fish Sounds Project.
She also had the opportunity to be part of the team organizing UVic’s first in-person science rendezvous event. The event brought more than 1,000 members of her community to campus to receive her 2022 COVID Creative Award from the national Science Rendezvous organization.
“Working on Science Rendezvous made me feel part of the university community,” Molnar said. “While I was still a student, I was in a meeting with all the university staff. I found myself involved in planning something this big, something I would not have had the resources or time to do on my own. It was great to feel like I was a part of it.”
Molnar accomplished many great things during his time at UVic, but when asked what his fondest memories are, he immediately mentions the “arduous hours” spent in the lab, problem-solving, and overcoming frustrations. We started talking about the hard work we put into it and how hard we worked to achieve our goals. Work with his colleagues to get the job done.
“It sounds silly to say I’m going to miss the hard part of a science degree, but it’s also the fun part sometimes. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most.”