Métis graduate student Jessica Schaub grew up far from the sea, in the prairies, but since she was in elementary school she knew she wanted to study the ocean. After high school, she moved to Vancouver do her undergraduate degree at UBC, and almost immediately started volunteering at the aquarium, in the jellyfish hallway. And the more she worked with jellyfish, the more she knew that’s what she wanted to study.
But surprisingly there aren’t very many jellyfish researchers at UBC. In fact, Jessica found while reading the existing literature that jellyfish are not usually a hot topic of research. Even when trying to answer basic questions about where they live, what they eat and how the jellyfish population is doing, she was running into problems.
So, she decided to start small and focus on their diet. “Instead of looking at it from a traditional way of measuring diet, by catching jellyfish and seeing what's in their stomach, we started to look at molecular techniques—more advanced ways of picking up their diet more accurately.”
According to her, we should care about what jellyfish eat because we have a lot of important species of fish around BC, like salmon and herring that they might compete with. “So when you get a lot of jellyfish in one area, they could totally take up all the food and leave nothing for salmon or herring, or other fish that we care about.”
Today, Jessica works in partnership with the Hakai Institute, doing her research on Quadra Island, in the northern Strait of Georgia, where she collects jellyfish.
“The nice things about jellyfish research is that there are jellyfish all over the world. And the community of jellyfish researchers is very small, so any research that you do here is relevant in places like Europe and Australia, anywhere. I hope that even just answering these basic questions will help contribute to bigger Science,” she added.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
My undergraduate years were spent pursuing an honours degree, which involved a significant research component. I really enjoy the hands-on approach and the opportunity to apply all of my learning to scientific advancement. I now strive to spend my career contributing to scientific research, so a graduate degree was the obvious next step in my career path.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
UBC is a highly regarded institute with many resources for my field of study and a large selection of supervisors, topics, and laboratories. The campus is also beautiful with a wonderful location in Vancouver
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
The ability and resources to study the ocean, which has always been my primary interest.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
The proximity of a wide variety of extra-curricular activities. I love being outdoors and I was worried that I would have to sacrifice my hobbies to move to a large city, but that was not at all the case!
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
My fieldwork allows me to travel the coast and spend time in remote areas of B.C. This is what I am most looking forward to.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
Moderating myself and using my time effectively. I love saying yes to new opportunities and I have a hard time prioritizing my work.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
My supervisor has been teaching me how to stay focused on an objective and separating out extra tasks. This has helped me learn to prioritize while still allowing me to accept new opportunities in moderation.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
My undergraduate degree was a combined honours degree, which was difficult but very rewarding. I started my graduate program with new skills that will certainly be useful during my degree.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I am an avid SCUBA diver and volleyball player. I also love camping, fishing, golfing, and knitting.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Take time for things that you enjoy doing to avoid burning out.