Darwin Sodhi

The role of pathogens in structuring forest communities in British Columbia
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

The reason I am so passionate about Ecology is because of my father, who was a university professor at the National University of Singapore. I was just 7 years old the first time my father took me into the forest to collect bats to analyze their feeding patterns. I spent the next 11 years doing fieldwork in the vast landscapes of South East Asia with my father and members of his lab. These experiences only furthered my passion and curiosity about the natural world we live in.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I decided to study at UBC because my research supervisors are among the world's finest community ecologists. In addition, my family has been living in Vancouver since 2010, which made the decision to move to UBC that much easier. UBC is known to have one of the most collegiate graduate cultures of any universities in Canada.

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

My program attracted me because I am able to work with scientists that are tackling environmental problems from a diversity of perspectives. I believe the best science is always collaborative and my program allows me to work with researchers who tackle problems differently to me. I also believe the numerous competitive scholarships available through my program were a major plus point.

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

I love that you can do outdoor activities all year round in Vancouver. As an avid hiker, climber and plant identifier, I am able to roam the natural landscapes of Vancouver and BC. In addition, being able to play soccer outside, year-round has motivated me to stay active through my graduate degree.

I believe the best science is always collaborative and my program allows me to work with researchers who tackle problems differently to me. I also believe the numerous competitive scholarships available through my program were a major plus point.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I enjoy the fieldwork portion of my graduate program. There isn't a word to describe the feeling you get when you design your own experiment and your results are completely different from what you expected. I am sometimes in denial that somebody pays for me to go to the forest and collect data that will become part of something larger.

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

I perceive my biggest challenge to be myself. As a person who lives with anxiety and depression, sometimes the negative self-critic gets the best of me. I have learned through my life how to manage my mental health illnesses but sometimes the different strategies I have don't work as well as they should. Through this, I have learned to always try to be patient, kind and honest with myself about what is going through my mind.

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

My supervisors have been some of the most supportive people in my life. They have been very open about their own experiences with mental health illnesses which has built a very strong foundation for our mentor-mentee relationship. The other graduate students in my program have also fostered a community where everyone feels valued and comfortable, no matter what demons they may be battling.

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

I believe my greatest personal attribute is my curiosity. My father used to say the key to a successful career in science is always built on curiosity. My curiosity has pushed me to continue my foray into academia and because of this, I have learnt many valuable skills, which have allowed me to become a more critical thinker in both my professional and personal life. Becoming a more critical thinker has pushed me to continuously improve my craft in science and become an integral part of any community I am apart of. In addition, my resilience has always kept me focused on my personal goals. I have faced many failures both personal and professional, but the biggest thing I have learnt through all them all is that there is always more in me than I think. My resilience has allowed me to seek support for my mental health illnesses, which were important in allowing me to succeed in university and continue my education through my masters and currently with my PhD. I would consider myself a risk-taker. This has been exemplified by doing a TEDx talk at the University of Toronto even though I suffer from terrible stage fright and social anxiety. From this specific experience, I have learnt that I must always trust in the process of practice and have faith in my abilities. On a more practical side, my ability to effectively manage my time has allowed me to continue being productive in the hardest of times such as in my senior year of high school when my father was battling cancer, I had to manage my time diligently to study for my international Baccalaureate (IB) exams while also supporting my family through this tough time. Further, in university having to balance a full course load and multiple jobs, I learnt that being very intentional with my time is important. Through my entire undergraduate and graduate experiences, I learnt the value of balance, self-care, fun and hard work are all important facets to being successful in anything you wish you accomplish.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I love being in nature, the inner peace I get from being outdoors is only matched by tasting all the amazing craft beers in Vancouver. I love to climb, hike, play soccer and binge the odd reality tv show.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Be patient with yourself! Transitioning is tough and building a lasting community will take some time. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there by attending events and getting to know your community because they will be the people to support you through your degree. You may feel like you are behind but if you objectively look at how far you have come, there isn't anything you can't accomplish.


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