Eric Bowes

Rational Catalyst Design: Towards Methane Functionalization

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work in the 'Wild Toads' research group at Mount Allison University under the supervision of Dr. Steve Westcott. Steve's passion for science is contagious, and sparked my love for chemistry research. After four years working in the Toads lab as an undergraduate, graduate school was the natural next step in satiating my appetite for discovery.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

UBC's chemistry department boasts both state-of-the-art research facilities with expert staff and globally renowned research faculty. The city of Vancouver itself is a vibrant and amazing place, nestled in between the Rockies and the Pacific. The most significant factor in my decision to study at UBC, however, was my prospective supervisor Dr. Jennifer Love, an expert in organometallic chemistry who aims to design catalytic systems that could have transformative effects in chemistry and applied science.

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

The PhD program in chemistry at UBC – and most other universities – is a hands-on, research based program that allows students to explore their scientific curiosities as part of a research team guided by a faculty member. Dr. Love’s program was particularly enticing to me because of her interest in catalysis, and because her students are encouraged to explore their own academic questions while working on a project. 

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

The mountains! Vancouverites are some of the most fortunate people living in this country – we live in the middle of an outdoor playground! Also, the ability to cycle year-round was a pleasant surprise for an east-coaster. 

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

Though the thought of it may make some cringe, I love being in the lab. Doing synthetic chemistry is as much an art form as it is a science, and I love learning new techniques and coming up with different solutions to practical challenges that one encounters on a daily basis in a lab. 

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

Like many PhD students, I hope to find employment in academia or basic research after I finish my degree. Challenges in starting such a career include the establishment of independent research programs and/or the management of groups of scientists/students. 

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

The degree of independence granted to individuals in our research group will allow me to develop the ability to ask meaningful scientific questions (a surprising obstacle in many instances!), and mentoring undergraduate students and incoming graduate students will aid me in preparing to work with larger groups of scientists.  

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

Working in the ‘Wild Toads’ research group at Mount Allison University provided me with the opportunity to present my undergraduate research at conferences and publish the results of my studies in peer-reviewed journals, giving me a glimpse into the life of a graduate student. I think that allowing undergraduate students to participate in research projects being conducted in academic labs is important as it allows students to make informed decisions about whether or not graduate school is right for them, and is also often the spark that sets alight the passion for science in many young people.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I like to take advantage of the natural beauty of British Columbia, and I spend my time out of lab skiing, hiking and cycling. I’m hoping to pick up climbing before I’m finished here!

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

I think that it is important to be confident in your abilities, and to view the strengths of your peers as an asset. It can be intimidating to join an entirely new cohort of scientists that have diverse and often quite impressive backgrounds - especially if you're coming from a smaller school! In my first year at UBC, I learned more from my peers than anyone else, and you should be excited about being surrounded by such a resource!