Katrina Bergmann

Using conventional computations and quantum simulations to accelerate the in silico design of highly efficient optoelectronic materials
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

During my undergraduate degree at the University of Manitoba, I was encouraged by peers to pursue undergraduate summer research awards. I'm extremely fortunate to have received those awards, which gave me the opportunity to work in three separate research laboratories throughout my degree. My lab experiences shaped the course of my career, and I fell in love with the workflow of research and the constant pursuit of unanswered questions. As a result, graduate studies felt like the natural next step following my bachelor's degree.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Vancouver and the UBC campus are absolutely beautiful places to live and work. I've always wanted to move to the west coast to be closer to the mountains, and so far Vancouver does not disappoint. UBC is also one of the top universities in the world, and I feel blessed to be able to study here.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

I had the pleasure of speaking to numerous faculty members within the chemistry department at UBC before making my decision, and I enjoyed the culture of the department. It is important to me that I'm part of a department where I'm able to know more faculty members than just my supervisor. I was specifically attracted to the program through conversations with my current supervisor, Zac Hudson, who is supportive of my volunteer work to improve EDI within chemistry, and provides opportunities for international exchanges during my degree as well as numerous collaborations with academic and industry partners.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

I love spending time outside, and the severe weather in my hometown (Winnipeg, MB) really only allows for that for a few months of the year. Vancouver is a beautiful city and I'm absolutely making the most of the warm weather all year round.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

I live with chronic mental illness, which has by far been the biggest barrier to my career that I've had to overcome. I expect this to continue to be a challenge in my life, although through proactive management it is not something that has ever limited my success, nor will I allow it to in the future. During my PhD I hope to improve the experiences of others suffering in similar ways by destigmatizing mental illness and removing the isolation surrounding it through open conversations such as this.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My entire undergraduate experience at the University of Manitoba prepared me very well for graduate studies. My coursework obviously pushed me very hard to learn and provided me with an extremely stable education in chemistry, but the non-academic portion of my degree was much more important in terms of my preparation for grad school. I was afforded multiple research experiences, which taught me how to approach problem solving, overcome hurdles in my research, and effectively communicate my work in journal articles and presentations. My involvement in research also helped me to know the qualities I wanted in a PhD supervisor. In addition to research, I was given opportunities to improve my leadership skills by working as a tutor for the Access and Aboriginal Focus Program, as a TA for chemistry teaching labs, and as a volunteer for high school outreach through the Undergraduate Chemistry Society. I was also a founding member of the Working for Inclusivity in Chemical Sciences group, which I later led as part of the executive team. These leadership experiences have shaped my career so far, and I cannot stress enough how grateful I am for my professors and peers at the U of M.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Take care of your mental (and physical) health! The pressures and expectations of graduate studies as well as the constant barriers in your research can definitely take a toll on your mental state. Although it can feel like taking a step back is limiting your productivity, burnout or a mental health crisis will ultimately set you back further. In that regard, put yourself first and make sure you choose a supervisor who will do the same for you. Additionally, make sure you get along well with your supervisor and the other people in your research group. 4-5 years is not an insignificant amount of time, and I would argue that your relationships with the people you conduct research with are even more important than the research itself.


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