First, I want to say welcome to all of you second year Integrated Science students! I hope you are all super excited for the upcoming school year, even though classes will be online.
My name is Charu, and I will be going into my fifth and final year of integrated sciences and my disciplines are molecular biology and immunology. I am in both the Co-op program and honors so feel free to reach out if you have any questions about these! Lastly, but most importantly, I am your ISSA (Integrated Sciences Student Association) VP Admin for the upcoming school year, so you will probably hear from me in various blog posts and such.
Second year ISCI can be such a confusing time. I remember having no idea what courses to take as an incoming ISCI student. I heard the words "degree proposal" had no idea what that was. I was overwhelmed by the number of courses I was interested in. I ended up spending hours looking into possible courses I would want to take in my upper years and looking into their pre-requisites to try to cover every possible angle, just in case I changed my mind. I know most upper year ISCI students went through a similar experience. As an ISCI student, you are given this amazing opportunity to plan your degree. What it also means, is you can literally take any course you want. With the vast number of courses available, this gets to be very confusing! I hope to provide some clarity and to guide you through this confusing mess, as you near course registration. Below is a general guideline for courses needed in second year for specific disciplines. Of course, these are only suggestions and there may be courses I have missed!
Ultimately, you can take any course you choose to, and integrate any subject you are passionate about so you should make sure to do your research on what pre-requisites may be required for any upper level courses you are interested in. I only hope to shed some light on a very confusing grey area.
You also have to make sure you fulfill your general requirements from the Faculty of Science! Check out these links for more details:
Shout out to our amazing Marketing Coordinator, Hannah, who made these beautiful visuals!!!
Note: If your integration involved life sciences, you will be required to take BIOL 200 and BIOL 201 or BIOC 202
The CMS Package worksheets may be helpful – it has details on their 7 subjects and combinations which may help you in your search for courses.
Another good idea is to look at other Majors (Biology, Microbiology, Stats, Biochemistry, …) on the UBC advising website and see what courses are mandatory in second year.
In September, we will have events to help you find a Mentor and offer a Peer Mentor program for help with your degree proposals. Right now, just focus on planning out your courses for this upcoming year, and thinking about what courses you will want to take later in your degree.
Good luck! And of course, feel free to reach out to those of us here at ISSA, Mary Anne (Program Manager and Advisor) or Science Advising if you need any support with course planning!
From a final year ISCI student.
1. The ability to build your own degree
The freedom to choose your own specialization allows you customize and tailor your degree to support your passions.
2. Very few requirements!
Instead of taking courses you are not interested in, you can focus on what is actually essential to your disciplines.
3. Fantastic faculty mentorship
ISCI has a great group of faculty mentors. This means you will have one-on-one time with a UBC professor who will help guide you as you design your degree and possibly beyond!
4. No required lab courses
This can be both a pro and con, but I like to see it as a pro. Lab courses take up a lot of time, and so without them, you will have a lot more free time to be a part of the UBC community. This could be through volunteering, working, joining a club, or even assisting in a research lab! Research experience is worth 10x what you will learn in a course.
5. Really cool courses
ISCI offers some really cool courses like ISCI 361 where you go to Hawaii or Iceland to study sustainability! Another fun course is ISCI 320, a research retreat without internet, or ISCI 350, Darwinian medicine.
6. An amazing department
Mary Anne Lyons, the Program Manager and Advisor, is incredibly kind and helpful, and is always there to answer your questions and help you out!
Lee Groat, the Director, is passionate about his teaching and loves getting to know every ISCI student. He is a great faculty mentor as well!
7. Directed Studies!
Directed studies are a great opportunity for upper year ISCI students to carry out an individual research project, with the guidance of faculty. This can be lab, field, or theory based and allows you to apply your knowledge and gain real world experience.
8. An outstanding Co-op program.
Yas Azarpajouh, the Co-op coordinator for ISCI, genuinely cares about each of her students and goes above and beyond to help each student find success! Many ISCI students pursue really cool Co-op opportunities—from clinical research to wet lab to industry, ISCI students are there!
9. Peer Mentorship
ISSA offers a peer mentorship program, where second-year students are paired with a senior student who is able to answer your questions and provide support as you pick your courses and write your degree proposal. Of course, once you are a senior student, you can volunteer to be a peer mentor and give back to the ISCI community.
The Integrated Sciences Student Association (ISSA) is all about helping and connecting ISCI students and has some great events to do so! From Meet your Mentor, where we help you find a faculty advisor, to proposal workshops to Meet Your Alumni, where ISCI grads offer insights on paths after your BSc, ISSA is there to support you!
Cameron Houchmand, a Peer Mentor and fifth year ISCI student integrating Pharmacology and Physiology sat down with ISSA's very own, Megan, to talk about the Peer Mentorship Program, doing a five year Honours Degree and some tips for ISCI students.
M: What is something that you enjoy about being a Peer Mentor?
C: My favourite part is being able to connect with fellow ISCI students. It can be kind of difficult to connect with ISCI students especially since we’re so spread out with our integrations. This position really allowed me to get more connected within the ISCI department. I love being able to pass on what I’ve learned to other students and being able to mitigate some of the challenges that I came across and it’s super rewarding.
M: I noticed when I started my degree, so many people help me out. It takes a village. Now I want to be able to help younger students and give them all the help that was given to me.
C: Totally! One of the biggest things that I really enjoyed was last year when I was able to calm people’s nerves about certain courses. A big misconception for example, is if you’re doing a Physiology integration, is that people get worried about fourth year CAPS courses. I can genuinely say that fourth year CAPS seemed “easier” than third year because they really just test more logic rather than your memorization skills. So instead of having to remember one tiny detail about one pathway, there would be a question asking you to describe the pathway in general. I found those types of questions really fair. When I had my first test in [fourth year] CAPS, I realized “Wow, this is so much better than what I was anticipating.”
M: What was one of your fears/concerns going into ISCI and how did you deal with that fear?
C: I definitely had fears and concerns. I was someone who was lucky and knew what I wanted to do. I guess in terms of fears it concerns it was more in terms of “don’t screw anything up.” It was really helpful that I actually had a peer mentor. It was actually one of the reasons that I applied to this job and she was really kind and good at helping me calm down about a lot of things. Because the staff in the ISCI department are so helpful and approachable, it really helps as well. If they weren’t like that, it would be terrifying. You would feel so alone but because they’re so supportive, it’s not as scary as some people make it out to be. It’s funny when I look back at a lot of the concerns I had and I just wonder why those things stressed me out so much.
M: What is something you would suggest prospective ISCI students research/look at prior to applying to the program?
C: I feel like my perspective is biased because from my own experience I would say to know pretty well what you want to do coming into the program. But that being said, there’s so many students that didn’t really know what they wanted do and ended up figuring it out and still came out with great degrees. I would say, it’s really good to have some time management skills coming into the program. As you know there’s a lot of different deadlines, especially in second year, associated with finding a mentor and submitting your proposal. Having some sort of system where you’re able to manage your time effectively is really important prior to coming in. Also, knowing about some of the limitations that the program inherently has regarding lab courses. A lot of people don’t know this, but lab courses are really hard to get into. You don’t necessarily need lab courses if you want to go into research. I highly recommend doing a directed studies. That, in my opinion, would give you better lab experience than doing lab courses. So if you are someone who wants to go into research, ISCI is still a really great option.
M: What is something you liked about doing an Honours degree?
C: There’s a number of things that I liked. I liked that it really showed me my ability to manage a graduate level’s workload. I did a lot of hours in the lab and maintained a full time course load, which was stressful at times. But, now looking back and realizing I was able to do that successfully, it's a huge relief and it showed me that I can pursue something if I set my mind to it.
M: How was doing a 5 year degree?
C: I did a fifth year because I finished my fourth year and it was a lot. I felt accomplished after but I also felt tired because I'd done four years and a heavy course load. I didn't want to graduate with resentment about the workload because I really love my degree, so now I’m taking all the electives I want and treating my fifth year has a victory lap. It’s a breath of fresh air.
M: That’s a great way to put it!
C: One thing that I’ll add about taking a fifth year is that I had the option to graduate and come back unclassified or take the fifth year. If you decide to graduate and come back unclassified, you’re the lowest priority for picking classes, whereas, if you come back as a fifth year, you hold a fourth year standing on SSC and would get the same priority as other fourth years. Another thing is that if you do a fifth year and fail one of your electives, if you’re an honours student, you would become demoted from your honours degree. That’s just something to keep in mind if you plan on taking a more difficult class
M: What is something you didn’t like about doing an Honours degree?
C: Looking back, the things I didn’t like were very surface level. Stuff like the workload, like your average complaints. Overall, I can only say positive things about it. Don’t get me wrong, it was very difficult, I won’t sugarcoat it, but, if you’re someone that likes a challenge or likes to push yourself, it’s a great opportunity.
M: Since you did a physiology degree and physiology is becoming increasingly popular, are there any physiology courses you would recommend?
C: I would say to really pick an interesting course that you care about. I took Renal Physiology which a lot of people don’t like but because my job is in kidney transplant research I enjoyed it and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I also took CAPS 424 which I thought was an amazing course, which was endocrine physiology. I also took some neurophysiology courses like bio-psyc which is PSYC 304. I would heavily recommend that course because it was really interesting. This course in particular is actually an honorary science course, so even though it’s technically an arts course, you get Science credits. I would also recommend CAPS 301 over taking a combination of 390 and 391 because it gives you a better overall understanding of physiology.
You can find a list of Honorary Science Courses here: https://intsci.ubc.ca/advising/curriculum-requirements#Honorary%20Science%20Courses
Overall Curriculum Requirements can be found here: https://intsci.ubc.ca/advising/curriculum-requirements
More Information About the Peer Mentorship Program as well as their Office Hours and Contact Information can be found here: https://intsci.ubc.ca/advising/peer-mentoring-program
S: How long have you been the director of Integrated Sciences? Were you the one to start it, or?
LG: No, I’ve been director since 2007. The program started in the late 1990’s, I think around ‘95.
S: Did you overtake it from the original director?
LG: No, ah, there [were] a few people in between me. They originally asked me in 2004, but I had too much other stuff going on. So I came back in 2007, and I figured it was going to work well for me. But it’s a good question; how many directors have we had? We’ve had acting directors for a while too. There was some sorting out to be done - figure out where, how to place Integrated Sciences, and the program took off like a rocket when it started. And they decided they had to, to cut enrolment somehow, the number of students, so they stopped taking applications and word got out that you couldn’t get into Integrated Sciences. And the enrolment dropped like a stone.
LG: Pictures of the graduating class as you can see.
S: It’s like 100, and then 25.
LG: When I came on the scene, I think their might have been 75 students at all stages. And so we had to rebuild the program, and tell everyone that they could actually get into Integrated Sciences. And now we’re up around, um, I think we’re around 400 at different stages, between their 1st and 3rd year. 400 – 450, I couldn’t tell you exactly. So, we’ve really grown and the program has gotten very successful. I mean the incoming students are among the best students at UBC, so yeah.
S: Awesome. If you were going to rate how competitive it is to get in, what would you say would be an average rating, and a number of times people submit an application to get in?
LG: Ah. It’s never impossible to get in. There’s two ways of getting in. One is by choosing integrated sciences in first year, in the, what do you call it, where you have to choose your major.
S: Ah, degree specialization. Is that what they call it?
LG: But you can always get in by coming to see us and saying that you’re interested in integrated sciences and then following the path of finding a mentor and completing an application. So, there’s kind of two ways of getting in, and the first way you still have to find a mentor and do the application, but when you choose integrated sciences at the end of first year, then you can make sure that we keep a spot for you. Even if you get in, this year we had 100 spots and they filled up. Again, we even have students coming to us in the beginning of their 4th years, saying “Hey, I’m really interested in integrated sciences...um, can we still do something?” And, we can up until [a certain point].
S: But there would be no specific like stats you would say? It’s all, it’s very interpersonal in deciding who can get into Integrated Sciences then?
LG: Yeah, I mean it’s very rare, very rare, in fact I can’t remember, that somebody couldn’t get in. As you know, the [important thing] is really the application. The desire to complete the application, as you know, it does take effort, and there’s a lot of checks, because, when it’s accepted, it’s law, it becomes a legal contract between you and the University. The University says “If you do what you say you’re going to do, we’ll give you a degree.” Now, we can always unlock and make changes and so on, but it has to be right. The reason why this program, why there aren’t more programs like this in other universities, is that that’s a big job, and we have permission from the senate to approve programs, individual programs. A lot of universities, the senate has to approve everything, but you can imagine, it wouldn’t work. [Here] it’s worked spectacularly well, but as you know, there’s a lot of responsibility on the part of the student and the advisor and us here in the office to make sure we are not making any mistakes.
S: For being a mentor, are your, the people who select you as a mentor, are they very specific in geology or have you gotten a wide range of [applicants]?
LG: Wide range, yeah, because students who can’t find a mentor, they’ll come to us and I’ll often, because I’ve done a lot, and I have great people like Mary-Anne who can help me, I’ll say, “Yeah I’ll act as your mentor.” I think it’s better if the student works with somebody that it’s an area that is in one of their areas that they want to integrate, because then that person can give them ideas about grad school and so on in their areas. But yeah, probably half the students I mentor are doing something in earth science, and the other half could be in any area.
S: What was the most unusual integration you’ve seen?
LG: The most unusual...uh, it wasn’t mine, but there was a student who was interested in how we perceive music, and so she did neurology, psychology, and a minor in music. Then I had a student that came in and said she wanted to study plants and rocks. And that worked out pretty well. We’ve seen a real wide range, it’s, I mean there’s been some really creative integrations, and kind of the wilder it is, the more fun it is to put something together.
S: When you’re putting something together, do you find you mostly do it over e-mail? Do you find you do it in in-person meetings?
LG: It’s, whatever the student is comfortable with, there’s some students that prefer email, it works better for them, and others that I think really enjoy the one-on-one meetings. So it’s, it’s right across the spectrum.
S: If you were going to do an integration now, do you have an idea of what you would do?
LG: Oh my goodness, wow. Good question. Ah man, I’d probably do something really unusual. But, ah, but yeah. I mean, you know I don’t know much about biology, because I didn’t take, you know I didn’t take that area much. I mainly did geology and chemistry, so maybe some kind of combination of geology and biology. [Some] biohydrometallurgy [and] bacterial work we did, was really interesting.
S: I’m not sure if you know this, but what would be your guess of proportions of students, of where they end up. Do the majority [of Integrated Science Students] end up in, say like a professional Ph.D. or Masters, like Medicine or Dentistry, or..?
LG: Yeah, almost all go on, and I would say that, I couldn’t predict, a lot go to med school, a lot go onto research, a lot of medical research. The majority of our students are in the life sciences, so the majority go into that. We have students who get into med school before they finish their degree, we have one fella’ doing a combined law and MBA program in California. We have a student really interested in stem cell research, and there wasn’t much at UBC so she started communication with researchers at Oxford and they invited her over for the summer, and then they said when you finish your undergrad why don’t you come work with us. Almost everyone goes on to something, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s probably, a quarter go to med school, okay let’s say maybe a third go to professional schools, and a third go to research like graduate school, and then a third end up doing something, something else. But, we do try to keep track of what people are doing, and percentages of students keep in touch, even after 10, 12 years, so, if they’re in town they’ll drop by, which is always nice.
S: If you were going to pick the major three advantages and major three disadvantages of becoming an Integrated Sciences student vs a single major, say Biology, what would you say?
LG: Well, I have to say, first off, one real major advantage is you’re creating your own degree, so you’re a unique degree, you’re not on a X/100 students doing the same thing, following the same path, so when you go to apply to grad school or a job, they’re going to say “what’s Integrated Sciences” and you say “Well, I was unhappy with the programs, so I used this opportunity to create my own degree.” You work with an advisor, which can be akin to how a graduate student works with a supervisor. I think it shows people that you are pro-active, you know you saw something that you thought, this is really neat, and you went and you put the effort into putting the application together, and you got in, and you have a degree that’s different from everybody else's, that’s a huge selling point when applying. Definitely the med school’s got the word on it, they all know us. They liked to see broad backgrounds in science. I’d say that’s really an advantage. Other advantages: it’s a small group, if you want to you can get very involved in things like ISSA, there are students that use the classroom to study, and the back room. It’s pretty easy to get to know us, because there are 3 of us. The kitchen of course. We’re like a small university inside a big one. If you’re looking for something smaller and more personal ISCI can be that, so that’s the second advantage. The third advantage, well you get to know all of your profs, your mentor/advisor, a lot of our students do directed studies projects in a lab. I think it’s a real vehicle where you can really, if you’re an integrated science student there’s a lot of things you can do with it, I don’t know, I think if you’ve already done the work to be an integrated sciences student you’ve realized there’s a lot out there, offered to you.
LG: Disadvantage: we can only take so many students, you know, we’re already over loaded. This year we had lower the intake in first year from 110 to 100, but that said, as I mentioned, you can always get into Integrated Sciences. So, you know it’s, I think it’s such a great program, I think it has great students, I’d like to encourage everyone to take Integrated Sciences, but we can’t take everybody. We were supposed to have 180 students in third and plus year, we’re around 210, 220. I wish I could get to know all of the students, I used to know all of the students, but my life’s gotten pretty crazy on the research end. I try, but yeah.
Don't forget to come out to Meet your Mentor, hosted by ISSA Tuesday October 11 at 4pm in Abdul Ladha! Meet some cool profs like Dr. Lee Groat, and get to know your ISSA. Click this link to go to the event page!
Looking for those volunteer hours, and that coveted reference letter for graduate programs? The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation has the perfect opportunity for you!
or if you have more questions, you can also e-mail email@example.com.
Thursday is the day I (Sarah, your ISSA Events Director) swim at the Stan Stronge Pool! I absolutely love my position, and we’re always looking for more people. I swim with a lovely woman, Barb Doucette, and through this position I’ve learned wheelchair usage, lifts, transfers, and swim exercises. The pool has been a diverse experience; I’ve swam with individuals with afflictions such as autism spectrum disorder and cerebral palsy. My supervisor, Bonnie Friesen, is also an excellent teacher – she uses exacting but kindly given instructions for proper conduct in the pool.
Dr. Jackie Stewart’s academic path began right at home, graduating from the Department of Chemistry at UBC with her undergrad. Wanting to stay in chemistry but not necessarily in the department for her master’s, she went to the faculty of Forestry (still at UBC!) and did her master’s in wood science. Her research included looking at the structure of lignin in trees and how that affected their pulping capabilities - still chemistry but in a different environment, so there’s some interdisciplinary there! Many of her group members were doing more molecular biology kind of work, while Dr. Stewart would analyze things like their transgenics; they would grow trees with different genotypes and put them down before she analyzed them. After her master’s, she started teaching right away, doing teaching and learning enhancement in the chemistry department and working with faculty to improve their courses. Dr. Stewart continued on to receive her PhD in educational psychology from SFU. Currently, her research is in chemistry education. Dr. Stewart appreciates having two different degrees in different areas!
Sarah: How long have you been involved in Integrated Sciences (ISCI)?
Jackie: I’m not sure, four years?
Sarah: How do you think ISCI has changed, or have you tried to change it at all?
Jackie: It’s definitely grown, I feel like we have a lot more students now. I have not tried to change the program but I think I’ve finally figured out a little bit more about being a mentor. I think I was a really bad mentor at first, poor Rik! We would submit all these applications and he’d be like, “This person doesn’t have this and this credit” and I’d be like “Sorry I don’t know!” So I think now, I’m finally getting up to speed on like “Okay, here are the requirements” - I’m a bit better at figuring things out.
Kathleen: Is there a reason why you decided to become an Integrated Sciences mentor?
Jackie: There was no reason, and I don’t try to make students feel bad about this, but I do tell some of my students who are asking me to be a mentor, “You know we don’t get anything for doing this, like it’s just extra, so if I take a week or two to get back to you, please don’t be mad!” I like doing this, and I want to do it, but it’s usually not the highest on my priority list. And they’re like “Okay that’s fine!” So I’m not sure, I think I do it just because the programs are interesting and at the time, when I became an Integrated Sciences mentor there wasn’t anyone from Chemistry (now we have Pierre Kennepohl as well) so that was a big reason too, that Chemistry should have a presence in this program, and of course, it’s always fun talking to students and stuff.
Sarah: Have you noticed any common characteristics of someone wanting to go into ISCI?
Jackie: Well that’s an interesting question because you’re all so different, but I think what would separate, or at least be a defining feature of Integrated Sciences student, would be that they’re very driven. It does take extra work to decide what you want to do and get it approved so I think usually people have very good reasons for why they want to be in Integrated Sciences.
Sarah: What do you think is the most rewarding part of being involved in ISCI?
Jackie: When students graduate! I look at the list sometimes, and I’m like “how many since have graduated?” and it’s not very many. So graduating and getting an application through, all the rigorous process that goes through after some hard work put in by the student - I think that’s very rewarding.
Sarah: Have you ever had anyone start an Integrated Sciences program and then leave for a different program?
Jackie: I don’t think so, maybe one, but I don’t really remember - if anybody’s really left. I think some people don’t end up actually completing the application but I think once people are in, they stay in.
Kathleen: In general, do you have any advice for students who feel lost and don’t know what major to pursue?
Jackie: Yes, I think some of it does have to do with career goals, but I think some people don’t realize there’s many paths towards a particular goal, like medicine or something, so I think keep that in mind. Definitely pick what you’re interested in - finding that one thing that you really want to understand. With many students, especially those ones who are talking about the pharmacology and microbiology thing, it’s some disease they want to understand. And they’re like, “Okay, well then how am I going to go and figure this out and understand it?” Finding the one specific thing that interests you is important.
"Finding one specific thing that interests you is important."
Sarah: If you were going to advertise Integrated Sciences, who would you target and how would you do it?
Jackie: I think it’s important for all students to know this program exists. Announcements in first year and second year classes is, I think, very important. I think advertise to everyone! If we really wanted to increase our number of seats, which I’m not sure if Integrated Sciences is able, I think getting the pre-meds is always good! Then, I think, get students that want to go on and do some interdisciplinary research and become scientists. In the Faculty of Science, we want to prepare future scientists and get them ready for grad school. How to go after those students who we can guide towards the interphase of two things rather than one thing, how to find them, I’m not sure. That’s a hard one.
Sarah: What is the most unusual integrated sciences program you have seen?
Jackie: The most unusual one may be one of the coolest ones, the program is winemaking, or viticulture. It includes microbiology and immunology, some ecology and some chemistry. A winemaker uses multiple parts of science so that was really cool! Recently, a student just got his application approved for ecology and neuroscience -which, don’t seem to go together at all. The ones that aren’t your standard disciplines and can really set you up for an interesting career are really interesting.
Sarah: If a program like Integrated Sciences had been available to you, would you have taken it?
Jackie: I don’t think I would have. I picked chemistry mainly because I had a really amazing high school chemistry teacher who set me up to do chemistry from the beginning. Remembering my time at UBC, I’m not sure I would have come into contact with the people who would let me know this program existed. I was very focused on my little world, and I didn’t have a very broad view. I think for those two reasons I was pretty dead set with chemistry, and so I don’t think I would have. Not because it’s not an awesome program though!
Kathleen: Although you wouldn’t have taken ISCI yourself, have you mentored a program that you really liked or would have taken?
I think chemistry integrated with anything else I would be fine with taking. Especially the programs where students are not taking my least favourite chemistry classes! , I think some integrated sciences students feel this way, they’re like “If I integrate these things, maybe I don’t have to take that” you know “quantum chemistry class”, or things like this. Not that those aren’t really important topics but just not something that comes easy, or that people immediately see the relevance of. I think linking something between chemistry and life sciences would have been really interesting, so I could see myself doing something like that.
Sarah: Which chemistry classes were ones that you didn’t like that, and which ones did you really like?
Jackie: When I was an undergraduate, I did not really connect well with physical chemistry. To no fault of my instructors or anything like that, but I remember sitting in one class, and just staring at the chalkboard, and the instructor writing a bunch of stuff, and just saying over and over in my head, “I hate this class, I hate this class, I hate this class”.
I think the problem was, for me anyways, that some classes are taught in a very mathematical abstract way and it’s very easy not to get the concepts at all, and I didn’t seek them out. I’m sure if I would’ve gone to the instructor and said like “Why are we doing this?” they would have said something useful. I liked math, I just didn’t really like chemistry math. I just didn’t get the purpose. And so now looking back, I would’ve loved to go and take my whole undergraduate degree again, because I think I would learn way more. For example, I’m rewriting our first year chemistry right now for Chem 121, and of course, there’s quantum chemistry in that and I think this stuff is all very interesting! Ten years later, I can see the usefulness of it, but as an undergrad, I didn’t. So those were the courses that were not my favourite. I liked synthesis more, like organic and inorganic, and spectroscopy was my favourite class!
Dr. Stewart has received the Killam Teaching Award twice, as well as the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) Teaching Excellence Award in 2010.
Sarah: How many times have you won it [the Killam teaching award], and why do you think you have?
Jackie: I’ve won twice, in I think 2006 and 2010. Since then, I’ve actually been on the committee, so I’m usually nominated for the award but I don’t accept the nomination. When I originally won in 2006, it was because the course I was teaching had not as friendly people teaching in it as me? So I really think people were just like “Oh she’s so nice! I like her! I’m going to nominate her!” I really don’t know if there was anything amazing I was doing in the classroom. At that time I lectured, and it was only my second year, I’m sure it was fine, but I don’t think I knew as much then as I do now about student thinking. I think that I was nice, friendly and enthusiastic and it was kind of like “Yay chemistry!” And then in 2010 I think I was probably moving a little more toward things like active learning and was trying to get students more engaged in the class, so that may have been a reason. They always write a little blurb about us when we win, I should dig that up and look at the reasons. I think another thing that students appreciate from my teaching is that I do think that everyone can learn organic chemistry! I think all UBC students who have least met the prerequisites have the core capability. Things happen that make some students not be able to be successful but everybody CAN be successful. And I think that comes across to my students and also, I try to be as available as possible to help them.
Sarah: Do you think that this understanding of student thinking has really helped you as a mentor? Does being a mentor come naturally, or do you have to think about it?
Jackie: I think for the chemistry stuff it came naturally and a little bit from my own experiences of not understanding, maybe some of my colleagues don’t have that experience and everything came perfectly to them and all the theory was magically in place. But for me, it was not like that. So I remember starting with certain things, “I don’t know what this is.” And so the idea that students can have misconceptions or be thinking about something in this other way that’s different than how maybe an expert would think of it is totally normal and expected to me. I think it helps in mentorship. I don’t think I contribute very much when people come to me and they have a big, clear plan, they say “I want to integrate these 2 or 3 things, what do I do?”, but I think where my mentorship really comes out is when a student doesn't really know what they want to do. I like talking through it with them and helping them realize they can make up a new discipline name or they can make this into a new thing. I help them by telling them they need it to become more concrete and empowering them to really just go and figure it out, because they can figure it out!
"Everybody CAN be successful."
Sarah: If you see a program that could be cool but they’re torn between that one and a more standard one, are you ever tempted to like lean one way?
Jackie: I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that, I would definitely lean toward the cool way though? Occasionally, I do have students come and they say, “oh I want to do chemistry and biology” and then I really try to push them into one of our existing programs. You can kind of see when a student isn’t really thinking “Integrated Sciences is definitely for me,” but they’re more like “I like a couple things, and I know I don’t want to take certain courses, maybe I’ll do Integrated Sciences!” That’s an easy way for me to say “How about Chemical Biology?” Because we have a program that is that, that fits their needs, which I think is great.
Sarah: What is chemical biology?
Jackie: Chemical biology is a joint chemistry and biology undergraduate program and there’s certain sets of core courses from each discipline. We’re rolling out a few new programs in the fall which have a Majors version of these formerly Honours only programs. Right now we have majors programs that will exist in chemistry and biology, chemistry and math, and chemistry and physics, the big advantage to them is that we’ve tailored the chemistry courses to be the ones that somebody interested in say biology, would want to take or somebody interested in math would want to take. These are great programs, not trying to take away from Integrated Sciences, but if somebody is like “Oh I kinda like these two things, but I’m not sure” these programs are a good option.
Find out more about chemical biology here: www.chem.ubc.ca/programs
Kathleen: That’s separate from combined sciences?
It’s separate from combined majors in science, which is a program where students take three topics, so three packages of courses they call them. It’s like a more structured general science, and I would say these programs I’m talking about in chemistry are a bit different because there’s only two disciplines maximum so you would be able to go a little bit deeper. I think the chemistry version of the programs I think you’d be fine to get accepted into say, a chemistry graduate program. CMS, the combined majors in science program, not so much. Because they’re just so few upper level courses that a student takes in a discipline, it’s going to kind of limit their options after, I would say.
Sarah: We were wondering about the impact you think your research has had, and what applications undergraduate students would see from it?
Jackie: Well that’s easy for me because I do research on undergraduates! So these maybe aren’t the research projects that I’m most excited about, but every year, when we do something, say in Chem 233, which a lot of undergraduates take, we attempt to evaluate it. So we might look at how students are approaching a certain topic, and what their responses are at the end of term surveys, and we make changes. So that’s more evaluation, less research I would say? But I think students would experience kind of our different guidelines for online homework, and how we set that up in the course, in terms of, percent penalties for wrong answers or how many questions we give them, and when they’re offered and things like that. Definitely in my class, I’ve used this technique using carbonless copy paper, where students will try a problem in class on this paper and they’ll hand in one version and then they’ll correct their own. Some people hate it, and it’s funny how much when I say, “we’re going to do a carbonless copy paper!” a lot of the class groans now, and they’re like “oh, we don’t want to.” But I’ve really been looking at how student’s responses change based on the first one, and their original one, and I really do think it has an impact on their motivation. Because if we didn’t have that, and I just said okay, try this problem, MANY students would sit there and wait and not think at all. That’s what I would’ve done as an undergrad. So I think having some of these things built into the class provides a little more motivation. One thing that I hope will have more impact on students soon is an online software program for students to do organic chemistry problem-solving that I’m developing. It kind of has the same correct your own mistakes feel, so I’m hoping that would have a good impact on undergrads soon.
Sarah: What big changes will you make with you online software?
Jackie: Well, I think it’s important for people to reflect on their mistakes, I really want people to stop and think of the fundamental reason why something was not right. So the program will reflect that.
Kathleen: I have a question about your education psychology stuff - in bio, in first year, we’ve been trying this flipped classroom model thing - would that work for chem, or is it different?
Jackie: Well, we’re doing that in organic chemistry as well, and we’ve done it for two terms now! But anyways, so chemistry is exploring this, not experimenting. For me, I think, as an instructor, it’s a gradual transition for me. In 2005, when I started it was mostly lecture, and then I started used clickers, and then I started using worksheets, and then some carbonless copy paper - these things in classes that break it up and make it not 100% lecture.Now we’ve gone pretty extreme in one direction where I would say we really don’t lecture at all and we do problems most of the time. I like to think, that at least in my classes, I bring that student thinking aspect, that when students are working on a particular problem on a worksheet, I can imagine what the difficulties are and we can discuss them. That’s a really important skill if you’re teaching the flipped classroom.
I’m not sure if keeping organic chemistry 100% flipped is the best way or not, I think it’s good to help students think during class but it’s always a balance with students’ time. Because if you had five flipped classes where you had to watch a 15-min video in all of them, 3 times a week, that would be really time-consuming. So I think as a university, we’re still trying to strike the balance.
So, that is a long explanation, but is it working? You know, students’ performance is very similar to what it was before. I think as a student, I would like this more, but learning is hard no matter what kind of form it comes in - right, flipped, or traditional, or a mixture. It still requires a lot of energy from the student’s point of view and the instructor’s point of view. So, yeah, there’s no magic pill. If there was for learning organic chemistry, I would give it to you and it would be amazing!
Sarah: What do you do for a thesis [in an educational psychology PhD]?
It’s a little bit different. In chemistry you would do your 4-5 years lugging it out in the lab, doing reactions every day - you have a big goal working toward either making this molecule or advancing this theory or whatnot. In education, it can be very broad. Mine was in educational psychology – I observed how students were working with their online homework and related that to some theories. You’re still trying to advance theory and you might be doing experiments but you might be just observing and understanding how people learn, so there could be lots of different kinds of research that you do.
For me, it was definitely different than being in a lab every day, because there’s a big time when you’re planning what you’re going to do for your data collection and there’s a short time when you’re collecting data. There’s a very focused data collection time and then there’s the six months of analysis, where I wasn’t interacting with the students who participated in my research anymore but I had to sift through all the data.
Sarah: Did you expect to have to do so much data sorting?
Jackie: I don’t think I fully understood how much it would be until I was doing it. I definitely have an optimistic personality where I’m like “oh that’ll be fine, that’ll be easy!”. And then sometimes I say to myself, “that was not as easy as I thought it would be”. But you trek through it anyway. So I prefer to be that way, because I still get into things and do them, but it’s still surprising in the end how difficult things are.
A huge thank you to Dr. Jackie Stewart for sitting down with us for this interview, and for being an ISCI mentor!
If you were going to recommend a playlist or a few songs that would summarize your experience at UBC, what would they be?
"I think if it was a playlist, it would be eclectic, diverse, with something for everyone... but these are a few choices: ‘We’re Not Alone’ by Echosmith (good song, good message, and I think its representative), ‘The Struggle’ by Grizfolk, and “This is Home” by Switchfoot. UBC has always been good to me."
What did you integrate, and why?
"I integrated ecology, oceanography and environmental science. One of them was actually “global challenges.” I wanted to make my major into environmental sustainability. I also did a minor in economics – it worked hand in hand with my major. My entire academic career was environmental and economic sustainability. There wasn’t really a lot out there that was like that – there was a website that listed the courses related to environmental sustainability, but nothing formal."
How did you choose UBC and Integrated Sciences?
Serena enjoyed her Biology 11 and 12 in high school, and knew that she was going into sciences at UBC. Her dad was also was influential in Serena's decision to include economics within her UBC degree. Serena considered selecting to major in chemistry, but "one of my best friends introduced me to Integrated Sciences, and I'm really happy that I did it." Serena then continued to say that Integrated Sciences was a great choice for her.
Are you currently on the career path that you expected to take when starting your Integrated Sciences undergraduate degree?
"A different path. This year I wanted to go into event-management and project planning. This is something I am passionate about, and will pursue in the future. For a time I think I was searching for which field to go into, since event planning is so broad. The dream for a while was to work for the Olympics, the biggest event in the athletics world – it’s super exciting. I started applying for jobs to do with athletics jobs – first events, but I was also interested in tech. Technology ultimately ended up where I wanted to be – technology related to event planning. I want to use technology to help others – my goal is to be that person who creates something that can help others help others."
Check out http://www.andysowards.com/blog/2013/what-can-be-3d-printed/ to see more of what 3D printers can achieve, beyond printing 3 dimensional figures based on a photobooth image, as seen above.
How did you come to be a sustainability intern for the 2014 Special Olympics in Canada?
Serena saw a posting on a website and promptly e-mailed the people planning for the event - noting that she was "accidentally super keen and [had] e-mailed them a few hours after the posting [went up]". She described working the event as an interesting learning experience, and that you learn about the environment – Serena had an idea about what implementing sustainability was, "but helping to actually plan an event operationally was different [then expected] with sustainability".
When describing the event, Serena mentioned that she got to:
"...figure out ways to engage the athletes with people who were watching. [Overall, we were there to] tell people how to be sustainable." There were many examples of the activities Serena worked on; for example, one day they talked to individuals about more sustainable modes of transportation. They promoted the bike valet service that was in action for the entire week, for any individuals cycling to the event. Furthermore, Serena advised people at the event about efficient energy and water use. A program that she helped was a "passport" for sustainable actions; if the athletes completed certain tasks to help preserve resources (such as taking a short shower, walking to next venue where an event was held) they got a stamp in their "passport". Overall, her involvement was to inspire people to people think and talk about what anyone can do to be sustainable. Fnally, the last project Serena completed with the Special Olympics (Vancouver, Canada, 2o14) was a report on all the services provided to the event that emphasized sustainability.
In addition to your academic pursuits, what hobbies and activities do you love?
Serena mentioned snowboarding, kayaking and in general being in the outdoors. In terms of other athletics, Serena mentioned that: "a large factor in wanting to get involved with the Olympics was the Faculty Cup. That event was on and off years before I came to UBC, and it was brought up to me when I was chair of Student Life and Communications Committee, as part of the AMS. [It was] up to me to bring it back, so I pitched, and my group took it on, and it snowballed from there. Last year I was involved again and overseeing it – it was a lot of fun."
RECOMMENDED READS: CATEGORIES "MENTOR SPOTLIGHTS" AND "ALUMNUS INTERVIEWS"
Charu, VP Admin