Heath Petkau has embraced boundless possibilities at the University of Lethbridge, exploring diverse interests, showcasing the richness of a multidisciplinary education. Engaging in three co-op work terms and an applied study, Heath thrived in Dr. David Logue's Birdsong Lab where he excelled in the immersive nature of the research.

My most memorable experience at ULethbridge is a lab field season in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. You wake up, it’s 3:30 a.m. and it’s pitch-black outside. You can hear the chorus of coqui, which are small frogs native to the island.

Meet Heath | Driven. Creative. Enduring.
Program: Bachelor of Science | Major: Psychology
Hometown: Calgary, AB

Why did you choose ULethbridge?

I originally intended to do an art degree with a second major in psychology. I came for the dual major in arts and science.

Experience ULethbridge
- Extraordinary student opportunities
- Supportive student services
- Vibrant campus community

Learn more | Start this fall!

Did you know what you wanted to study before you came to ULethbridge?

I wanted to be an animator when I got to post-secondary. Rebecca Sugar was a bit of an idol of mine. They were an animator for Adventure Time and made Steven Universe. Sugar created a show with queer women front and centre, men who didn’t fit into the traditional roles of masculinity, and a narrative on colonialism. The visibility I felt through it made me want to pass it on to the next generation. New media was the best path for that, but you could not have a new media major with a psychology major. This was a pipe dream so, I had a double major in art and psychology. I then dropped the art major not even a month into my first semester. Psychology was now my only major. Two years later I added a neuroscience minor because I was interested in the neuroendocrine basis to behaviour.

Please tell us a bit about your experiential or work-integrated learning.

I have had three co-op work terms and an applied study. The three work terms were all summer research awards to create and work on a research project in Dr. David Logue’s Birdsong Lab, as was the case for my applied study. I met Dr. Logue at the Meet the Profs game night when I was working as a residence assistant, and got signed on to do an independent study. He told those in the lab about summer research awards we could apply for. I thought it would be cool, but had no idea what it entailed. We came up with a project, and here we are three years later. As a result, I got to: travel (to Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Portland, Ore.); learn statistical programming; get hands-on experience writing for academic publications; get animal-handling field experience; and be exposed to so many different walks of life. My research project won a Genesis Poster award in Costa Rica at the annual Animal Behaviour Society conference.

My biggest takeaways? If you like doing something, you do not need a plan. Take the opportunities as they present themselves. I should note that I asked Dr. Logue for most of these opportunities. If you are wondering, as an undergraduate student, how to get involved with professors, have research projects and cultivate yourself through experience, you need a good track record and enough self and social awareness to know what you can ask for. Opportunity comes to those who make and invite it.

What is your most memorable ULethbridge experience so far?

My most memorable experience at ULethbridge is a lab field season in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. You wake up, it’s 3:30 a.m. and it’s pitch-black outside. You can hear the chorus of coqui, which are small frogs native to the island. You have 30 minutes to brush your teeth, drink coffee and dress, as we leave for the reserve at 4 a.m. It’s a 20-minute drive. You grab a couple of granola bars and some mini bananas. The roads are still wet from yesterday’s showers and you can barely see walls of tropical trees lining the sides of roads.

By the time the car is parked, you can see an amber ombre on the horizon, but the sky is still dark. There are more stars, more constellations you don’t recognize. And with one picture, you can immortalize three planets. We’re mapping out where the birds sing in the dawn chorus (that special spring song we hear back home is more universal than you might have thought.) You have a GPS, and you know what your species sounds like. It’s still very dark and tall grass, wet with dew, extends above your knees.

You can hear a male. You turn your head side-to-side to pinpoint him. You find the direction and run. Other people don’t run in subtropical dry forests in the dark, especially if they’re a gangly northerner. But you are running. He’s stopped, you’ve slowed, putting more effort into tracking your subject quietly. You don’t want to scare him. There are two tamarind trees in the middle of a field. He sings again, and you pull a clothespin with a fluorescent plastic streamer from your shirt and place it on a branch below him.

For the next hour, you follow him and record in a notebook when he changes location, marking each new tree. Then you meet with your lab, discuss your findings, go back and take the locations of the tress, drink a litre of water at once (because it’s now 26 degrees with 80 per cent humidity at 9 a.m.) Your Cool-Dry shirt is drenched. You take the locations of other tree points for people without GPS, talk more, and get back at 11 a.m. Shower, two-hour nap, expresso with local beans, attend a zoom class, upload all map points to the Google Earth file, clean them up and make territory polygraphs using the tree data. You send new map to team, return to trap and tag the birds from 4 to 7 p.m, sous chef for the supervisor, clean up, resupply your field bag’s water and toilet paper, read, and go to bed by 10 p.m. Or you would go to bed at 10 p.m. if there wasn’t a strike that extended the semester, and you didn’t have to write a book report and take-home final.

And then you do it all again tomorrow. For eight weeks. The tasks changed when we started recording the birdsong and filming for a documentary.

We had Sundays off, and we spent them networking with Dr. Logue’s friends, former students and colleagues, and/or doing touristy things, like going to a beach. The work was exhilarating. The atmosphere outside, it was roaring and calm.

How have your professors impacted your education?

Dr. Atif Khalil tutored me directly for World Religion 1000 in my first semester, back in 2018. His effort and belief in me led to me getting our goaled grade on the final. He was the first professor to have put stock in me like that. I don’t think I’d have the same undergraduate career without him. I know I wouldn’t if it hadn’t been for that class. It made me see what I could do with hard work and interest.

I was in my second year when I joined Dr. Logue’s lab, and I joined because I could and wanted to do an independent study. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with psychology long-term, or after I graduated. His mentorship and the opportunities he gave me had a monumental impact on my education. He exposed me to animal behaviour, field research, and data science. I have practical experience and have been able to compare myself with Puerto Rican students and students from across the globe at Animal Behaviour Society conferences because of his lab’s support. I want to study animals and do statistics, thanks to Dr. Logue.

Heath makes the most of his university experience by seeking out opportunities to conduct and disseminate research. – Dr. David Logue, Department of Psychology

Is there anyone else who had an important influence on your ULethbridge experience?

Lukas Neamtu was my co-op advisor for years. He sat me down, we talked out what I was struggling with, and we’d work it out in conversation or with whiteboards. He cared about the person behind the student and encouraged me to have a multifaceted approach to life.

Juleyska Vazquez Cardona was the PhD student in my lab and has been a very validating support and friend, as have Peter Mower and Samantha Huang. Peter is a submitting master’s student and Sam is a recent master’s graduate. Lab families are a thing and while I am incredibly biased, this was a tight-knit one.

Have you received any scholarships and awards?

I received the following awards/scholarships:

Thank you for investing in my future. I'll do my best not to waste it.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like spending time with my friends, game nights in, or bar nights out. I volunteer and am a director on the Lethbridge Pride board. And I play old video games and make art (watercolour, crayon, pencil, digital). Colour theory has really enhanced my graphics for figures.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

Publish my project with Dr. Logue. Graduate, work for a year in town, travel for fieldwork for a year or so, then go for a master’s in data science.

What advice would you like to give those about to begin their journey at ULethbridge?

Discipline and tenacity are the key to excel. But if you want to be a human being when you finish, you will need to take sick days, make friends, and not lose yourself in the process. You also do not need to excel. If that’s not your lifestyle, don’t force it. Long-term sustainability for satisfaction should be the goal, and there is more to life than prestige and monetary success.

What you do here is up to you. I would not have met the university entrance requirements if it had not been for my art class grades. I didn’t take any Grade 12 math courses and I have taught myself multiple programming languages and am publishing a statistical paper. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say I’ve done well with my science degree. You probably came here with an identity and idea of what you are capable of. You’ve probably been told your worth by teachers, parents, and peers for the last dozen years. They can be wrong. Keep an open mind and let yourself grow.

Quick Answers

Favourite social activity at ULethbridge: Walking around campus late at night in the winter wearing crocs and an old-timey onesie.
Favourite place to study: The library's quiet zone. Or home alone before I had a cat. He meows at me if I'm not giving him enough attention. Endearing and annoying.