Cassandra Elphinstone

Arctic Plant Genomics: Climate Adaptation
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I was drawn to graduate school because I am inherently curious and during my undergraduate work in the High Arctic a number of questions had arisen. The genetics of Arctic plants in relation to climate change is a surprisingly understudied topic and I wanted to know more about it.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

At the end of my undergraduate degree, which was also completed at UBC, I spoke to my honours thesis supervisor who studies the ecological effects of climate change on tundra plants and another professor who investigates the genomic adaptation to different environments. I explained that I was interested in integrating these two topics, and, an hour later, a very clear project had evolved. However, funding for such a project was not available in either lab. Before long, we discovered that a new grant program through GenomeBC was accepting applications. I wrote up the project to the best of my abilities and we submitted an application. After failing to get the grant the first time, we persevered and resubmitted it. The second time, our application was successful.

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

The complementary expertise of Loren Rieseberg in plant genomics and Greg Henry in Arctic climate change research, along with the extensive staff and facilities at the Biodiversity Research Centre, provide essential resources for the question I want to address. My project would not be practical without their combined supervision and knowledge. These factors made furthering my studies at the University of British Columbia a clear decision.

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

For me, the best part of Vancouver is the easy access to the coastal mountains and the wonderful community of people that also love spending time outdoors.

The complementary expertise in plant genomics and climate change research at UBC, along with the extensive staff and facilities at the Biodiversity Research Centre made furthering my studies at the UBC a clear decision.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I am very excited to get the sequencing results and learn the answer to a question I have been wondering about for a few years: Are Arctic plants regulating their DNA differently in response to climate change?

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

A lot of people want to stay in academia and there are not that many jobs/positions.

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

I am learning many of the important skills to continue on in research (writing and publishing papers, applying for grants, the peer review process, etc.). I am passionate about what I am studying.

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

People have told me graduate studies is like running a marathon. I think my experiences exploring BC’s Coastal Mountains and persevering even when conditions were tough has taught me a lot about working through difficult situations and not giving up even when it seems like I might be going nowhere.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I love spending time outside. When I am not working on my project, I enjoy hiking, back-country skiing, mountaineering, and climbing.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Get involved in activities you enjoy outside your research. They will introduce you to a like-minded community of people and provide you with a way to relax when you need a break from your project.


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