Amy Forsythe

Ecological and evolutionary consequences of individual heterogeneity
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Ever since learning about the Fibonacci sequence in high school, I've been fascinated in how mathematical models can be used to explain biological phenomena. My interest grew throughout my undergraduate degree in biology and mathematics, where I was exposed to just a subset of the vast diversity of models that provide insight to processes in nearly all fields of biology, from cellular biology to evolution. After finishing my Master's degree that used mathematical models to explore some effects of individual heterogeneity in ecology and evolution, I still had many unanswered questions about how accounting for among-individual variation can change predictions from the simpler conventional models that assume populations of identical individuals. Continuing in research through a PhD provides the opportunity to start answering some of these questions.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

It sounds cliché, but I've always dreamed of studying at UBC! The West Coast is so beautiful, yet it was always a bit too far from home to justify. When I started looking at applying to a PhD, my Master's supervisor strongly recommended Sally Otto, not only for her work in the field of theoretical evolution but also because she is such a caring person outside of her work. After meeting with Sally and her students a few times, and hearing about the sense of community in the Zoology department at UBC, I decided it was finally where I had to be!

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

The Zoology department has an exceptional team of researchers that study theoretical ecology and evolution, and I was excited to get to learn from and work with them. The department is supportive of its students, and keeps us engaged with several weekly seminars, discussion groups, and social events. I also liked the access to resources and unique opportunities that my program provides, including BRITE internships and affiliating with the Institute of Applied Mathematics.

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

So many opportunities for hiking! And endless beaches (more than I expected!). Everyone talks about how beautiful Vancouver is, but it doesn't hit how close you are to nature until you arrive and have the mountains and ocean in your backyard. I also love that UBC has its own botanical garden, complete with a tree walk and garden centre to bring home your own plants!

The UBC Zoology department has an exceptional team of researchers that study theoretical ecology and evolution, and I was excited to get to learn from and work with them.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

Definitely my Master's degree! Research is very different from course work because of how independent it is (in terms of deadlines, hours, etc.), and I'm glad that I got experience forming and answering my own research questions, and defending a thesis, before starting my PhD. My Master's supervisors were also excellent mentors, and they helped me gain the confidence and connections to feel like I was already a part of the field by the time I graduated and started my PhD.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Take advantage of on campus work space that UBC provides (like an office if you have one)! You'll meet lots of cool new people. Also try to keep a consistent schedule (at least in terms of weekly hours) - it's easy to spend far too much (and occasionally far too little) time on your work when you're given the opportunity for independent research.


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