Rachel Fernandez is a microbiologist. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto, and an MSc and PhD in Microbiology from Dalhousie University. After a four and half year postdoc first at Virginia Commonwealth University and then at the University of Cincinnati, she moved to UBC to take up an assistant professor position in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. There, she works on mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis with an eye towards developing new vaccines.

When she’s not in front of a computer pounding on her keyboard, you can find her pounding balls on the golf course. In Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Professor Fernandez works with graduate student professional development and the Postdoctoral Fellows Office.

Why did you become an Associate Dean in G+PS?

To enable our grad students and postdocs to reach their full potential. I had been involved with the Graduate Student Career Development Advisory Team (a TLEF initiative) that looked at how to prepare our graduate students for careers in and outside the academy – mostly the latter. The associate dean portfolio for which I’m responsible presented an opportunity to put into practice some of the ideas discussed not just for graduate students but also postdocs. I also met with the two colleagues at G+PS with whom I work (Jacqui Brinkman and Hourik Khanlian). I was impressed by their dedication to serving our students and postdocs and knew we were on the same page.

What have you learned from the experience?

Being at G+PS has allowed me to have a wider perspective of UBC and to look at things not just through my department’s or faculty’s lens but to really appreciate the entire university in all its diversity. As I’ve seen through our Public Scholar’s Initiative, our 3-Minute Thesis events, and from reviewing scholarship and fellowship applications, this is a great place with amazing people. I’ve also learned first-hand that many of the students and postdocs who come to our office or attend our events really appreciate what G+PS does.

What makes UBC an exciting place for graduate study and for postdoctoral fellows?

Have you seen our 3-Minute Thesis competition? Attended events put on by students in our Public Scholar’s Initiative? Or seen the Postdoc Slam put on by the UBC Postdoc Association? If you have, you’ll know that we have some truly innovative students, postdocs, faculty and staff. When it comes to research at UBC, the sky’s the limit, or to paraphrase – Tuum est!

What should students know about G+PS?

We are a dedicated team of staff and faculty who care about student and postdoc success both at UBC and beyond. We liaise with many groups across campus, be they academic or administrative units, or individual students or postdocs to ensure that this happens.

What should UBC faculty members know about G+PS?

In addition to serving our students and postdocs, we also serve our faculty. We offer best practices for graduate student supervision, we uphold UBC policies surrounding graduate education, we embrace scholarship in all its forms, and we are data-driven. We are open to new ideas (re-imagining the PhD, graduate student professional development, postdoc career planning) and we are amongst the finest in Canada in this regard. We are working hard at streamlining the admissions process and we are always looking to increase graduate student funding. We are also excited to launch an amazing new recruiting (and research collaboration) tool developed in-house by Jens Locher.

What is one crucial next step in advancing graduate education at UBC?

In addition to recruiting brilliant new students, offering more scholarships, opening up the dissertation, and engaging more with faculty who are busy?

I like the idea of expanding the “graduate game plan” to include individual development plans that address not only success in graduate school but also explore career choices from the beginning. Having a plan (which will evolve over time) helps with deciding what activities (e.g. academic, professional development) are useful/critical for that year and can be done with input from the supervisor and discussed during annual committee meetings. Having a plan also helps articulate and realize the value of a graduate education—not just in a formative sense but also as it applies to future careers.