Marine mammal research involvement lands SFU grad a prestigious new scholarship

April 08, 2021

Helping British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Response Program (MMRP) has earned SFU applied science graduate Brendan Cottrell a very important seal of approval.

Brendan has been named one of the 20 McCall MacBain scholars for the 2021 cohort for his involvement with the MMRP and his work as a database administrator and drone operator.

“I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to represent SFU as a member of the inaugural cohort of the McCall MacBain Scholars at McGill.”

The McCall MacBain Scholarships, which saw over 735 applicants, enables students to pursue a fully funded master’s or professional degree at McGill University while connecting with mentors and participating in an intensive leadership development program. The scholarship celebrates students from all walks of life who are taking initiatives in their fields and communities and are addressing important problems and challenges.

“Our selection committees looked for traits like empathy, integrity, grit, and a commitment to working with others,” said Natasha Sawh, Dean of the McCall MacBain Scholarships. “They were impressed by Brendan’s sustained commitment to his volunteer work, leadership potential, and curiosity. The students selected have a wide range of experiences and interests, and that diversity of perspective will be fundamental to their shared learning experience as McCall MacBain Scholars.”

Brendan, who studied applied physics at SFU and graduated in 2020, has been involved in the field of biology for a very long time. Not only are both his parents biologists, Brendan has volunteered with the MMRP since 2013, assisting experts with marine mammal rescue operations, drone work for reconnaissance on entangled marine mammals and helping maintain underwater monitoring stations.

Entering SFU, Brendan was a member of the Schulich Leader Scholarships program and looked forward to the academics SFU had to offer. But he’s most grateful for the activities that rounded out his university experience.

“While the academic part of university is important, the balance is more important. Learning to be a part of groups, networking and interacting with people and getting involved with the community and causes you care about is a critical part of the university experience.”

During his time here, Brendan was a part of the SFU chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society. He also participated in a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) with SFU assistant professor Teresa Cheung.

“I was initially thinking medical physics would be a cool intersection of the humanity and quantitative sides I’d been used to and that research term was a neat way for me to explore that option. Teresa Cheung was just amazing, she was so supportive and had a lot of amazing opportunities for me.”

During his graduate studies, Brendan hopes to dive deeper by using drones and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) to map certain aquatic areas, assess habitat quality and anthropogenic impacts. He also hopes to use ROVs to help clean up lost fishing gear that creates entanglement risks for marine mammals.

“I’m hoping my work will bridge my backgrounds in physics, biology and technology and marry them together.”