By Shannon Boklaschuk
When Braedan Walker began studying at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), he took a “no stone unturned” approach to his educational journey.
As a student in USask’s College of Arts and Science, he decided to explore a wide variety of disciplines—including anthropology, history, German, economics, drama, chemistry and more—as he worked toward his undergraduate degree.
In a few weeks, the award-winning student will receive a Bachelor of Science (honours) degree in statistics, with minors in English and sociology, during USask’s 2021 Spring Convocation.
Walker valued the interdisciplinary learning opportunities available to him in the College of Arts and Science, which complemented his courses in statistics.
“In the end, I chose to minor in sociology and English, as they stuck out to me because those subjects allowed me to approach critical thinking and many different ways that I wouldn’t have done in my statistics courses,” he said.
“Writing all those papers—either collecting multiple academic arguments to make a new point or by conveying your interpretation of narrative art and form—was a great exercise that also let me ground myself alongside more human perspectives and approaches to the world alongside the very number-heavy aspects of my degree.”
Walker, who grew up in Lloydminster, originally dreamed of becoming a sports reporter when he graduated from Holy Rosary High School. Going to film school was another option for him, but when he discovered statistics in his third year of university he didn’t look back.
“Statistics, to me, is the ultimate plug-and-play discipline,” he said. “Even in my undergrad—as you may see by my other academic activities—I was able to expose myself to, and make use of, knowledge drawn upon from other subjects. A future where I can find myself a part of many diverse projects with far-reaching applications and problems to tackle is extremely exciting and was the exact reason why, after those first unsure couple of years, I had peace (of) mind choosing to go full steam ahead with statistics.”
Walker has excelled during his time in the College of Arts and Science; for example, he was included on the Dean’s Honour List after taking a full course load, received a USask undergraduate award and also served as a course facilitator for the new Science and Math Prep Program.
In the summer of 2019, Walker also worked as an undergraduate research assistant under Dr. Tony Kusalik (PhD), from the Department of Computer Science, and Dr. Juxin Liu (PhD), from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, as part of project 3.3 of the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre research group. The research Walker did there was the framework for his honours thesis, titled An Overview of the Linear Mixed Model for Genome-Wide Association Studies: Methods and Simulation.
Another highlight for Walker was becoming involved with the Math & Stats Student Society (MS^3) in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. He first served as vice-president finance, later taking on the role of president in 2020.
“Originally, I just wanted to get more involved with my peers, and it really blossomed into a more fulfilling experience where I’ve been able to make great relationships as well as grow more as a leader and someone who can juggle a lot more responsibilities beyond my course work,” he said.
“This was amplified when I took on the role as president in April 2020, with essentially no one else fully committed to next year due to our elections being hampered from COVID and the closure of campus. Twelve months and a lot of hard work later, we are home to a full executive of passionate math and stats students who have just completed our most active year yet. I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve all been able to do and I’m glad that this year set the groundwork to really hit the ground running for when we can organize on campus again.”
Walker added that the best part of his undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science was the tight-knit community in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, which enabled him “to flourish.”
“Whether it be the friends I’ve made or the close relationships formed with some of my instructors, the math and stats community here really treats you as a valued piece of the puzzle,” he said. “The great opportunities I’ve had with MS^3, undergraduate research, getting experience as a teaching assistant or my honours thesis are a testament to this.”
As Convocation approaches, Walker is getting excited about the future. He was recently awarded a prestigious Ontario Student Scholarship and will soon begin a Master of Science degree in statistics at Western University. As a student there, he will again employ an interdisciplinary approach as he works on a project focused on modelling and predicting the presence of carbon isotopes in the hydrocarbon chains within lipids.
“I’m very glad that I’m coming out of university with a degree in statistics because that will keep my work post-undergrad dynamic and intriguing, with fluid interchangeability between collaborations with a broad number of other disciplines,” he said.