By Erika Siren, Houra Loghmani Khouzani, Linnette Mae Ocariza, Tara Fernandez, Victor Lei
Every year, the Center for Blood Research holds the CBR Research Day to celebrate the achievements of its undergraduate summer students and to showcase the work and talent of their graduate and postdoctoral researchers. On August 16th, the LSI Atrium was filled with enthusiastic members of the CBR, eagerly awaiting the start of Research Day to learn about each other’s accomplishments.
The Summer Student presentations started off the day soon after lunch. Dr. Ed Conway, Director of the CBR, took to the mic to explain the strict rules for the talks. His final words echoed through the seminar room ominously… ”Three…minutes…ONLY.” The designated timekeeper, Victor Lei, was seen lurking in the shadows, gently cradling the CBR Research Day’s official mascot, the sacred rubber chicken. After an elapsed time of 3’30”, Victor was instructed to subject the chicken to repeated rounds of violent asphyxiation. Its shrill, piercing cry was a stark reminder that the student’s stage time had indeed run out.
Reminiscent of a scene from the Hunger Games, the Summer Students anxiously adjusted their bowties, inspired by attendance of the new UBC President Prof. Ono, and tried in vain to hide their sweat patches, while stealthily checking out their competition. In the distance, a raven cawed, signaling the commencement of the day’s proceedings.
The first speaker, Amarpreet Grewal, set the bar extremely high with her eloquently presented description of her summer’s achievements. Hailing from the CBR Admin team, Amar detailed her efforts at promoting CBR’s education and engagement initiatives, while attempting to create a CBR-based viral sensation on social media.
What followed was a stream of enthusiastic students taking to the stage to share their scientific endeavors in a packed seminar room. The audience was treated to talks describing everything from HIV drug resistance in Swaziland to advances in high throughput diagnostics for cancer. The students tried every tactic under the sun to engage their listeners: rhetorical questions, shocking factoids, stories, metaphors, and endless jokes, inspired by the UBC 3 minute thesis competition. Even senior graduate students were left feeling inadequate after learning what these undergraduate students could achieve in just a few short months.
The next award paid tribute to the people who enabled and supported the young researchers at the CBR. The Neil Mackenzie Mentorship Award, which recognizes outstanding mentors in the CBR, was awarded to Dr. Evan Haney, a postdoctoral fellow in the Hancock lab. He is described as a caring, friendly, generous and enthusiastic mentor, who goes out of his way to help his colleagues and to make the lab a great place to work.
After the award presentation, Dr. Andrew Trites of UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit took to the stage for his keynote talk: “Expecting the unexpected in science education”. He encouraged the crowd of young scientists to allow their innate passions form their professions. Dr. Trites shared how he combined his interests in the life sciences and for investigative work in order to take on a “missing seals” project early in his career. After taking this project, Dr. Trites fell into many intellectually fun and unexpected opportunities that he shared with his audience. He consulted the Royal Canadian Mint on coin design, helped settle a fishing rights dispute for a First Nations group, and led the Blue Whale Project, excavating Canada’s largest Blue Whale skeleton, which is now displayed in UBC’s Beatty Biodiversity Museum and is featured in a Discovery Channel documentary. In case you are visiting it, the Biodiversity Museum also has Pokémons!
The next chapter of the day featured 14 graduate and postgraduate judges, who challenged the summer students to demonstrate their knowledge with poster presentations. Undergraduates were evaluated on poster design, presentation, and ability to answer questions about their work. In the meantime, the Admin team was secretly and frantically calculating the winner of the best 3 minute talk, and preparing for the arrival of the new UBC President, Professor Santa Ono.
Prof. Ono arrived in the midst of poster judging and took the center stage in the atrium next to the brand new CBR poster, designed by Amarpreet Grewal just one month prior. As attendees discovered the President’s arrival, the excitement visibly grew. After a wonderful introduction by Dr. Ed Conway, Prof. Ono talked to the CBR researchers about his early research career in immunology and the nostalgia he feels for the graduate student days. See coverage of his speech from the UBC Faculty of Medicine here.
At the end of his talk, President Ono awarded the best presentation prize to a very surprised Evelyn Liu from the McNagny lab. As his final act, he stayed to view the graduate student posters and talked science past the allocated time, until he was pulled away by calls from his wife! Shortly after, Dr. Conway presented Elana Kimmel from the Cote lab with the best poster award; and Ryan Hope from the Harrigan lab received the rubber chicken for the longest, albeit stimulating student talk.
The day ended with a delightful barbeque dinner and drinks. All and all, it was another successful and fun event at the CBR, looking forward to more!