I am honoured to have a piece written on my PhD. Check it out here.
A quick post to say that I have moved on! I defended my PhD on April 15 (hooray) and started a Post-Doc in Dylan Fraser’s lab at Concordia in June. Holy smokes that was a fast-turn-around. I have spent the last few months finishing projects, archiving samples and wrapping up in Calgary, and then moving and starting a new position here in Montreal. I’m both excited and nervous about the next steps! Mostly, I’m excited that my work here at Concordia will be an application of what I have done before. I will be genomics and evolutionary biology to conservation questions. More on all of this to come.
Over the years, many people have asked me how I got here –that is, to my PhD, and I have wondered the same about others. So, I thought I would share my story, in the off chance that any of you are interested.
As you probably already know, I’m currently a PhD candidate in Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary. But what you may not know is that I’m also visually impaired, and because of this am involved in advocacy work for university students with disabilities and surrounding visual impairment and science.
My path to pursue academic research actually began with my advocacy work as a visually-impaired undergraduate science student at University of British Columbia, and because of my participation in the retinoblastoma community (retinoblastoma is the disease of the eye that I was diagnosed with as a baby). I was asked to give the keynote address at a National Retinoblastoma Society meeting, where I spoke with Dr. Brenda Gallie, a world renowned researcher in the field. I asked her if I could do summer work in her lab; I spent two summers and a fall in Toronto working at the University Health Network/University of Toronto. Her acceptance of my request changed the direction of my life. With employment in her lab my foray into molecular biology and a career in research began.
I had a long-standing interest in environmental biology, and my undergraduate had been largely focused on evolution and ecology. Between summers in Toronto, while back at UBC, I wanted to explore these interests in a more comprehensive way, and took an intensive Biology of Fishes field course at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre. While I was there, I read an paper on collapsing fisheries stocks that shifted my interest in research to the environment, but that also made me realize how I could use molecular biology as a powerful tool to address environmental concerns.
Since then, the time between then and now has been a matter of developing skills that would allow me to bridge molecular and environmental biology. This began with an internship working on a salmon enhancement research project at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, work at the Vancouver Aquarium, my MSc in molecular ecology at UBC, and finally my PhD here at the University of Calgary. And that is where I am at today.
Although my work and interests in Biology have changed over the years, advocacy has been a constant throughout my journey. You can read about some of this on the “visual impairment and science” page of this site.
During the first three years of my PhD, I had the privilege of spending anywhere from six to thirteen weeks of a summer in Alaska conducting the field work for my project. I’m stuyding the impacts of migration on divergence of the Threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). To do this I collaborated with the US National Park Service, and am very lucky that I stumbled on the opportunity to work with them. The following pictures show some of my journey to find and study the stickleback.
This is a map of Katmai National Park and Preserve, where I spent most of my time.
We packed up to load the plane.
The plane that took us to most of my sites.
We sampled fish using minnow traps and seines in many places.
And then we processed our samples.
Most of our pictures were taken when the weather was perfect, but the bulk of the days it wasn’t. With very patchy radio contact, we waited for our flight for 8 hours one day in the rain and the wind.
But, I can’t complain, we got to see some pretty amazing places.
And we got to see spectacular flora and fauna.
King Salmon, our base, is a fishing community. The population swells in the summer with salmon fisheries.
And I am learning, ever so slowly, how to fish.
I am one very lucky student!
Working with Dr. Mahadeo Sukhai of the University of Toronto, and Drs. Lisa Young and Naweed Syed of the University of Calgary, we are moving toward a proposal for sustained accessibility funding for Post-Doctoral fellows in Canada. I have been profiled on the U of C’s Department of Graduate Studies website to help initiate this project. It is available at: http://grad.ucalgary.ca/monthly-profile/ella-bowles. And the U of C’s UToday paper included a very nice article about our project, found at: http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/utoday/may9-2013/phd-candidate-seeks-funding-for-post-docs-with-disabilities. The picture at the start of each article is the same, which is kind of confusing, but they are different pieces.
All of my field work is conducted in collaboration with the National Park Service in King Salmon Alaska, where I work with the Department of Natural Resources. Every year they put together a newsletter talking about some of the science that happens in the park. Here is the piece on our work from my last field season, which was in 2012. Go to page 7 of: KATMnewsletter_2013_final