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Ecologist finds career path

Chantelle Burke By Janet Harron

Chantelle Burke has finally found her life’s passion. She may have taken a circuitous route to get there, and she won’t say exactly how long it took, but the Long Harbour native is thrilled to finally be graduating with a M.Sc. in cognitive and behavioural ecology.

“I came to Memorial University out of high school and I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do,” said Ms. Burke. “I had an older sister who was doing an English degree so I did one too. But I came to realize it just wasn’t for me.”

After graduation, Ms. Burke travelled and worked for various organizations. Nothing seemed to resonate except for a genuine interest in the environment.

“I’ve always been keen on learning about the environment and maintaining it in a caretaking role,” she said. “Finally I went back to school and did marine environmental psychology at the Marine Institute. The program was very interesting, but once again I wasn’t sure if it was for me.”

The program did give her the flexibility to do a work term of her choosing, and by that time she had become familiar with the work of Dr. Bill Montevecchi, Memorial University’s renowned bird researcher. That summer she began working with a PhD student of his, travelling to Funk Island to study the region’s bird colonies, and was hooked.

“I became very interested in seabird research,” said Ms. Burke. “I was fascinated just understanding the marine system and how complicated and fragile it is. Through research you get to find the answers to what’s happening with the system and how to protect it.”

She’s been with Dr. Montevecchi ever since, first as a research assistant, then as a master’s student. Her own research has continued into local bird populations, most recently the interaction between murres and capelin.

“It’s funny, but what actually helped me a lot was my English degree,” said Ms. Burke. “When it came time to write about my research I felt good about it and I received a lot of positive feedback from my examiners. I know it was because of my experience in writing.”

Although she is about to graduate, she still has a position working with Dr. Montevecchi for another year and is actually considering continuing on for her PhD.

“My sister always laughs and says she never expected me to be going to remote seabird colonies, but I love it. It’s been great!”