Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
In the middle of my undergraduate degree at UBC I took a course taught by my current supervisor that introduced me into the world of protistology. I always had a fascination for nature and evolutionary history and when I found out about this field that dove head first into the evolution of eukaryotic microbes, I was hooked and couldn't resist learning more.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
After becoming interested in protistology, I dug around to learn more about the available opportunities for conducting research in this topic and spent some time as an undergraduate student assisting on projects in my current supervisor's lab. From this I learned that my current supervisor's lab was one of the top protistology labs in North America, had a friendly and supportive working environment, held deep connections and partnerships with many other major protistology labs across the world, and was definitely the lab I wanted to be in if I decided to pursue protistology.
In order to avoid risking putting all my eggs into one basket I spent some time as a co-op student working in multiple institutions across Canada in various disciplines ranging from nanoparticles to neurobiology to explore what else was out there. However, at the end of my co-op program, I still found myself most drawn towards protistology. During the last year of my undergraduate degree I met with my supervisor to discuss the possibility of joining his lab as a graduate student in the following year. Immediately after leaving that meeting I began preparing my formal application.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
The Botany program offers the opportunity for masters students to transfer directly into the doctoral program without having to complete a masters degree (Fast Track). I already knew that I wanted to complete a PhD in my current lab under the guidance and expertise of my supervisor, who was supportive of my decision. I could see the clear value in learning not just about the research being conducted in my supervisor's lab, which incorporated field work, wet lab work, and bioinformatics tools, but also the broader skills of networking and management. With the process to transition into the PhD program being so straightforward in the Botany program, the choice was obvious.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
For me, the best surprise about UBC was the amount of support for bringing dogs into work. Having none to call my own, I'm always happy to see other people bringing their dogs to work. My favourite parts about Vancouver are the close proximity to forests, beaches, and mountains, the diversity of wildlife that can be spotted at each of these locations, and the beautiful colours that emerge from the trees and flowering plants each season.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
I can't express how much I truly enjoy the research I am doing for my thesis; from discovering new species, to finding really cool cellular features and behaviours not known to exist in other living cells. We do a lot of microscopy and bioinformatics in my lab, which I find to be both the most fun and most challenging aspects of my research. Being able to see the parasitic cells I study with my own eyes so clearly through a microscope is always amazing, but finding them in the first place is like playing a game of Where's Waldo, except you don't always know what Waldo looks like, or if he's even there at all, but if and when you find him it just makes your day.
I didn't have very much bioinformatics experience before joining my lab, so learning how to analyze sequencing data was a challenge at first. With the help and support of my supervisor and lab mates I was able to get the hang of it and now greatly anticipate analyzing freshly made sequences. Because the group of cellular parasites I study, apicomplexans, are so closely associated with animals (they infect nearly every type of animal from deep sea corals, to alligators, and even you!), but none live freely yet they all arose from a free-living algal ancestor, I find it interesting to think back to how their evolution must have occurred, especially when they were just emerging, and how their life cycle became so intertwined with their hosts. There is truly so much to be explored in this field, even just within this single group.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
A lot of people seek to find jobs/positions in academia, but usually very few opportunities are available. Further complicating this is the increasing cost of living encroaching on the pre-existing knowledge that academia rarely affords a comfortable salary for the qualifications as well as the time and effort of a researcher.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
There are a lot of transferrable skills to be gained throughout a thesis in addition to basic research, writing, and skills relating to the methods used to conduct activities specifically related to thesis work. Leadership, mentorship, and supervisory opportunities are also available. Some of these transferrable skills include time management, organizational skills, networking, multitasking, communication and presenting. Many opportunities to learn and practice these skills are available in the program.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
During my undergraduate degree at UBC I took a number of upper level biology courses that usually did not have a final exam, but had a number of presentations, papers, assignments, and group projects instead and often involved readings from journal articles. I felt like this was a great way to slowly introduce me to the reading, writing, and presenting that would be expected in a graduate program before starting the program. I also worked in different types of laboratories while in the co-op program as well as through directed studies. This helped me become familiarized with laboratory environments, learn basic laboratory skills in different areas of research, and experience working under different supervisors. I was able to learn about working with different people and in different environments, ways to avoid having difficult situations arise, and how to problem solve through difficult situations if they did arise.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I got bitten by a travelling bug a while back, so I like to travel to new countries or cities whenever I get the chance. When I stay in Vancouver, I like to watch too much tv and movies, visit new restaurants, and spend time with friends and family to wind down. I like to do many things for fun, especially trying new activities, and I hope to be able to do more of them when I have more time.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Each graduate experience is unique and usually depends significantly on your supervisor, your lab mates, your project, and your style of approaching things so be sure to choose carefully and gain insight by talking to current and past lab members. Try to take everything as an opportunity to learn. There are many doors open at UBC, so make sure to use them to your advantage. If you ever feel like you are in need of help or if something is wrong, please do not hesitate to reach out to a resource, advisor, or someone you trust. Lastly, take things one step at a time and remember to take care of yourself too!