Students as the stars

Master of science students showcase their work

Tayla Scott, Contributor Ω

Jo-Anne Hales, a first year master of environmental science students who was at the seminar, conducted her research on toads. Image courtesy Jo-Anne Hales

Jo-Anne Hales, a first year master of environmental science students who was at the seminar, conducted her research on toads. Image courtesy Jo-Anne Hales

On March 6, 12 master of science in environmental science first-year students nervously, but proudly, presented their thesis research to a crowd of about 50 students, teachers and members of the community. Every student’s oral presentation was well received by the audience. There was abundant applause, questions and laughs.

After the presentations, the crowd was free to explore the second-year students’ poster presentations on their thesis research.

“Throughout the summer, I was trapping turtles and attaching transmitters,” said Amy Leeming, a first-year sciences graduate student. “For me, painted turtles are a great species because they’re a species at risk.”

Leeming is concerned that B.C. does not have any provincial endangered species legislation. She is working alongside the Wilderness Committee (a non-governmental organization) to try and start a TRU species at risk chapter. She is also promoting species at risk legislation for the province.

Getting into the graduate program wasn’t a challenge for Leeming.

“I had good enough grades and no problem getting a scholarship. You are much more marketable to a professor if you are able to get money,” Leeming said.

The students’ research is funded mainly by grants, which are secured by faculty members who take the graduate students on.

Wendy Gardner, a member of the master of environmental science committee and a professor at TRU, currently has four master’s students conducting research.

“I apply to different funding sources to get money. If I’m successful in getting money, I then advertise and will interview students that are best fits,” Gardner said. “There’s a lot of cost to do their research, they shouldn’t be paying that.”

Gardner will pay students about $18,000 a year as a stipend. The students can apply to get their own scholarship money as well. Often, graduate students will get jobs as teaching assistants, which are paid positions.

“I often have enough money through their research programs to hire undergraduate students to work with them in the summer to collect data. That gives undergraduate students a chance to see about research and get more involved.

“As a professor, one of the things that makes my job worthwhile is seeing the students in their success, especially if they go out there and change things,” Gardner said.

Erika Dufort, a first-year graduate student, is researching Indolicidin, which is an antimicrobial peptide. According to Dufort, antibiotics are used largely on factory farm animals, which contribute greatly to their overuse, leading to antibiotic-resistant germs and superbugs. Indolicidin, Dufort hopes, will one day be ready for use as an antibiotic.

“My concern with the development of any other antibiotic is how do we stop overuse from happening again? So if we develop another antibiotic that’s useful, how do we keep it useful?” Dufort said.

“The students were amazing at keeping their talks on pace and sharing information at not a super-technical level, so that everybody can understand,” said Karl Larsen, member of the Master of Science Coordinating Committee and the MC for the presentations.

Larsen believes the next step for the master of science in environmental science program is getting students’ research out into the general community.

“As of today, we have program changes that make this [showcase] a degree requirement,” Larsen said.