Kevin Jeffers

Photo by Rachel Spencer
Identifying novel adaptors and localization mechanisms of the neurological disease-associated, Vps13
Elizabeth Conibear
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

During my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in science. While I was uncertain if that meant becoming a professor in academia, a staff scientist in industry, or something else entirely, I realized I would need a graduate degree to proceed down any of those paths. Though I started in the Master’s program, I ultimately decided to transition to the PhD track due to the amount of fun I was having with my current project. Plus, it is thrilling to be able to do my own independent research. Being the first to discover something and getting to share that information is the best feeling in the world.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Ultimately, it came down to location. My choices were between the University of Toronto’s Molecular Genetics and UBC’s Medical Genetics programs. Both schools had a lot to offer and were home to wonderful supervisors with exciting projects. However, Vancouver was more compatible for me in terms of lifestyle. So, here I am.

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

I find it fascinating how the Department of Medical Genetics manages to pull people from a variety of areas of study and unites them with a common goal. All of our projects fall under the umbrella of finding cures and treatments for human diseases but there are many different approaches we take to achieve that goal. I work with yeast as a model organism. Some of my current and former lab mates work with human cell lines. Our neighbouring lab works with mice and worms. My colleagues in the Genetic Counselling program and the clinicians deal with patients directly. We are all able to come together, share our different perspectives, and learn from them. I think that’s outstanding.

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

It is so easy to get from one place to another in this city and there are so many diverse places to eat and explore. I greatly admire the initiative the city has when it comes to preserving the environment. I love the affordable and accessible public transit options, dedicated bike paths, and the gorgeous parks.

We are all able to come together, share our different perspectives, and learn from them. I think that’s outstanding.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I’ve always enjoyed just doing wet lab science. It feels great to come into the lab, plan an experiment, do it, and then find a cool result that I may or may not have expected. With COVID-19, I unfortunately haven’t been able to network as much as I would have liked. Before finishing my degree, I’d love the opportunity to go to conferences in different cities and countries, and meet my peers of the field in-person. It’d be wonderful to get new perspectives on my own work and hear about other crazy developments from their labs.

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

While I am considering going the academic route, the biggest hurdle is the limited job market. My greatest struggle is trying to stand out among my exemplary peers such that I can have a chance to make it in academia.

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

UBC offers a variety of workshops to help prepare its graduate students for the next steps, which are invaluable. Though my success as a graduate student I largely owe to my fellow lab members and supervisors. We all regularly meet with each other to discuss our findings, point out flaws and suggest new experiments to create the biggest impact and to refine our work as much as possible. My supervisor, in particular, is very hands-on in her approach and has been a great help in developing me into a better scientist.

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

My overall stubbornness and general work ethic. Though my graduate degree has been challenging at times, I strive to keep going to reach the end. I truly enjoy my work and recognize that, though small, the experiments I complete may one day have a greater impact. I owe a lot of my interest in the world of scientific research to the Cardona lab at the U of M. Through my honours project, I grew to adore research. And having a supportive mentor and supervisor were big factors in that. My personality and the desire to help people were shaped by my family. My parents and younger brother especially, but my close relatives; uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents, have all encouraged me to work my hardest. I am forever grateful to all of them.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

In my free time, I love to exercise, play sports, and cook. In the 2021-2022 season, I starting curling again after a three year hiatus. Going forward, I plan on playing the sport competitively. I love to run and plan to eventually complete half and full marathons. And when not trying to stay healthy, I bake for my colleagues (and myself). Throughout these last few years, I have hopefully done my family proud, if not through my diligent graduate work, then in carrying on their recipes and sharing the products with friends.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

My first recommendation for anyone considering grad school is advice I was given soon after I started. Decide on a project before deciding on a program. Picking a topic you are truly passionate about is worth more than the title on your degree. Otherwise, ensure you are wary of all of your deadlines and manage your time well. Don’t procrastinate but also don’t burn yourself out. Both are tragically common.


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