Nicole Bison

Drivers of plant heat tolerance and thermoregulation from leaf to landscape
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I completed a Bachelor of Science in the Honours Ecology specialization at UBC. Through this program I got to join a lab in the Botany department and complete a dissertation looking into what causes seasonal variation in how wildfires effect forests. This was the most exciting and rewarding experience of my undergraduate degree. The process of diving into a topic, finding important pieces of knowledge that are missing or incomplete, and the contributing new knowledge was interesting and fun to me. Especially given how timely and important the topic of wildfires is in Canada, I was motivated to continue conducting research that is especially relevant for Canadian forests and ecosystems.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

UBC is an awesome place to do ecological research! In addition to nearby mountain ranges that provide elevational temperature gradients, we have access to incredibly diverse plant collections at the UBC Botanical Garden only a short walk away from our laboratory. The Botany department and Biodiversity Research Centre also have incredible researchers and staff that create a supporting and motivating environment. The breadth of expertise at UBC is very helpful for my research, which combines topics across disciplines.

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

Being part of the Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC is really special. Not only do we have some of the world’s leading labs, but the working environment is incredibly supportive, and fun. I particularly like that our department is relatively small, so there are lots of opportunities to be involved in the inner working of the department and connect with faculty, students, and staff. For example, I’ve been able to help plan the department’s annual graduate student research symposium which is always a highlight of my year!

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

I was surprised by how many different opportunities are available for graduate students in teaching, STEM outreach, student societies, and professional development. Although my dissertation is my top priority, being involved in these types of activities has been hugely rewarding for me and a great way to meet colleagues and friends! Some examples of program/initiatives that students in my department often take part in include STEM outreach (Beaty Museum; Let's Talk Science Initiative, Biology Undergraduate Diversity in Research), teaching training (Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning), student societies/organizing (Botany Graduate Student Society, Graduate Student Society, CUPE), and professional development/internship opportunities (BRITE & Living Data Project).

UBC is an awesome place to do ecological research! The breadth of expertise at UBC is particularly helpful for my research, which combines topics across disciplines.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

If I had to pick one, it's that I have the opportunity to conduct fieldwork and collaborate with amazing groups of scientists not only at UBC but also abroad. The researchers in the Biodiversity Research Centre have strong collaborations with both local and international researchers which present interesting opportunities. Parts of my dissertation involve fieldwork in Norway, and South Africa! In fact, as I’m writing this, I am in the arctic working with researchers at the University of Bergen!

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

I feel one of the biggest challenges I will face is finding a long-term research focus. There are so many important topics and challenges, and a range of different approaches to study them.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

For environmental/ecological sciences, UBC is a leader in the field. Researchers and labs in different faculties and departments approach topics from different perspectives, and use a diverse range of tools from experiments to remote sensing to simulation/modelling. In this setting, I’ve been able to explore different approaches to ecological science, and gain experience using some of the most cutting-edge methods in the field.

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

Part of my decision to study ecology as an undergraduate was inspired by my father. He attended UBC for his BSc in the 80s, and has worked with the provincial government as a fisheries analyst for over 30 years. His work has informed the management of critical species and ecosystems in BC which I think is really exciting. From my father, I gained an applied perspective to ecological science, which compliments the more fundamental research that I currently do.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I enjoy outdoor activities like mountain and road biking, hiking, and climbing. I also regularly visit my family at home in Kamloops, where I love to hang out with my chickens (pictured below on their 2nd birthday!).

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Try to attend seminars often, even if they aren’t directly related to your dissertation. You might end up seeing your own work from a different perspective which I think leads to the most interesting and important science!


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