Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

First year students present health research at national conference

November 22nd, 2019
L-r, Madison Pendleton, Dr. Michael Cardinal-Aucoin and Sophie Sawler

As first year StFX students, Madison Pendleton and Sophie Sawler were immediately on board when their ‘Intro to Biology’ professor Dr. Michael Cardinal-Aucoin gave his students the opportunity to participate in an optional class project last year, providing an opportunity for the students to do extra work outside class time to gain experience doing health-related research.

The project proved so successful that their research, “Let’s talk about sex: A mixed-methods study of student awareness of and access to sexual health primary care resources at a residential university in Canada,” was accepted for presentation at both a national and international conference. 

From Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2019, Dr. Cardinal-Aucoin, Ms. Sawler and Ms. Pendleton travelled to Vancouver, BC to present their research at the Family Medicine Forum, a national medical-related conference. The two StFX students were by far the youngest presenters in attendance. 

“Being able to have this opportunity is beyond what I expected coming to StFX,” says Ms. Sawler, now a second year health student. 

“I can’t describe the feeling. It’s amazing,” agrees Ms. Pendleton, now a second year biology student, who says building these types of relationships and experiences early in their undergraduate degree is invaluable. 

Both students say they want to become doctors in the future and the chance to be around people at the conference who have recently gone through the healthcare field was a one-of-a-kind experience to talk and network. 

“Being around people you aspire to be like was awesome,” says Ms. Sawler.

Dr. Cardinal-Aucoin says the idea behind the research project was so the students could present at a local conference, the Dalhousie University Primary Healthcare Research Day in Halifax, NS, in the spring. He says that experience went so well that they decided to apply to other conferences. 

They were accepted and attended the Family Medicine Forum in Vancouver. Both students received funding from StFX’s Dr. W.F. James Student Research Conference Travel Support Program to attend and present their research findings.

Their work was also accepted at the international North American Primary Care Research Group conference, held in Toronto, where a colleague of Dr. Cardinal-Aucoin presented their poster.  

Dr. Cardinal-Aucoin says the idea to offer the opportunity to the students was important to him. 

“I just want to try, at least, not just to teach the facts of biology or science, but also how it’s done, and that’s research. One of the best ways is to dive in and do some research. That can be difficult, especially in first year courses.”

Dr. Cardinal-Aucoin says he didn’t want to make the project obligatory as not everyone would be interested or be able to devote so much time and effort to it. 

For Ms. Sawler and Ms. Pendleton, both say the opportunity to do research and to expand their knowledge appealed to them. They say Dr. Cardinal-Aucoin did everything he could to help and support them in this experience. 


This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.


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