Josef Garen

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Impacts of temperature on plant carbon metabolism and water use
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My interest in ecology generally, and plant ecology in particular, was initially stimulated during a few short-term jobs I held as an outdoor science educator. Unlike many of the people in my department, I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who grew up loving nature. Instead, I was fascinated by what you might call the “big questions,” which led me to study physics as an undergraduate and history and philosophy as a master’s student. But in between those degrees, I held a few jobs and volunteer positions as an experiential science educator, and a big part of my role involved taking young students out in nature, identifying plants and animals, and teaching them about ecology, climate science, and conservation. I loved this work - both working with young students, and learning about the particularities of the place that I lived in. There is a kind of powerful connection even in simply learning the names of other species that you share this place with. I felt the need to learn as much as I could about the natural world, which led me to pursue a degree studying ecology.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Besides the fact that UBC is located in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I was extremely fortunate to find a lab here where my interests and my skills are an excellent fit. As mentioned above, I have a bit of an unusual background for biology or ecology, coming from physics and philosophy. However, during my search for potential schools and supervisors, I connected with Dr. Sean Michaletz in the UBC Department of Botany. The research in his lab focuses on plant ecophysiology, with a strong emphasis on physical science, theory, and modelling - areas where I had plenty of experience. I began working with Dr. Michaletz as a research assistant, and I enjoyed the work so much that I decided to stick around for a doctorate.

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

Much of the botany department at UBC is housed in the Biodiversity Research Centre which is an outstanding interdisciplinary research facility with folks from many different departments, but all united in their interest in ecology and evolution. It is a fantastic community.

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

UBC has an amazing collection of museums and gardens that are free for students - the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and the MOA both have incredible collections that you could spend weeks sifting through, and the UBC Botanical Garden is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon in the spring or summer. The Botanical Garden is also a fantastic resource for plant science researchers like myself.

Besides the fact that UBC is located in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I was extremely fortunate to find a lab here where my interests and my skills are an excellent fit.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I crave variety in my life, and I love the fact that no two of my days are ever the same. I constantly jump between labwork, fieldwork, mentoring undergraduate students, TAing, meetings, data analysis, tinkering with instruments… the list goes on. The work is often challenging, but rarely boring.

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

I am interested in pursuing an academic career path, but academic jobs tend to be highly competitive. Building a strong record of publications and awards to make myself competitive in the field will be my biggest challenge, I think.

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

Through my program, I have had the opportunity to travel internationally for fieldwork, collaborate with scientists from around the world, and network with other researchers at major scientific conventions. There is so much opportunity and so many resources available here; you just have to seize them.

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

My academic and professional career prior to joining this program has been quite varied; I jumped from physics and computer science in my bachelor’s degree to history and philosophy in my master’s, and now I am studying ecology and plant physiology. Having that unusual background made me feel a bit out of place in my program at first, but I have come to appreciate that my background, and particularly my quantitative skills, are highly valued in this field.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I enjoy taking advantage of all the outdoor adventure opportunities BC has to offer - hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking, to name a few. A trip into the Fraser Valley to visit some of our beautiful local wineries is also a great way to spend a sunny summer day.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Be stubborn; don’t give up when things get difficult, but also don’t hesitate to ask for help. There is a whole community of people around you to help, though you may have to go looking for them. Also, use your healthcare benefits while you have them!

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