06/26/17

Growing into a face of UBC

The University of British Columbia (UBC) has two main campuses which offer similar quality of education, but different programs and environment. Every year, prospective students from all over the world find themselves able to choose if they want to join UBC, and the campus they want to spend the next few years at. In January 2016, I received information from the MasterCard Foundation leadership offering me my first shot at being part of that important decision. I had already been part of shaping the UBC student experience as part of the jumpstart program. Joining the International Student Initiative (ISI) as a student ambassador seemed like an opportunity to be involved with prospective students throughout the year as part of the University. I picked interest in the posting and in the March of 2016, I was selected to join the student ambassador team.

I had had to give tours before, as a Jumpstart orientation leader, and I had enjoyed sharing my stories about different parts of the university. Having to give tours as part of the ISI program felt like a chance to expand this experience in several ways. The tours I would give would be longer, the participants more diverse and the content more precise. Every day I would go to Brock hall would be a new chance to reflect on my experiences and meet new people.

Joining this team was a big step for me; it was my first time to take on a job during the school term. At this crucial step in my professional learning curve, I had to grow to cater to more than just my academics. Becoming a student ambassador was the perfect choice for this development because as a work-learn position under the university, there was a lot of support in successfully balancing work and classroom commitments. My colleagues and employers have been very supportive in my efforts to become better for this job, and my career. There have been a lot of opportunities for professional development through the meetings and retreats. I have learnt to express myself better, to speak in public more coherently, and be more considerate of individuals within groups. Often, I find myself inspired by the glimmer in the eyes of the participants when I deliver a tour impeccably. Furthermore, the ambassador adventures and informational sessions are creatively crafted to exhibit UBC as the dynamic place it is. Because of this, I am aware of what happens around me at UBC, why it happens, and what it means to the people who call the university home. Certainly, it has given this university a lot more meaning to me. In as much as the program is highly professional, some of the people I work with have grown to become my friends. Whether it is through covering my shifts when I could not make them or having personal conversations outside work, my colleagues have made this team feel like my community. As I move into my fourth and final year, I am excited to keep growing as an ambassador.

09/10/16

Battling infectious disease with infectious passion.

Warrior in the white coat

Cell counting in the translational lab

Unwilling to pass up an opportunity to be clad in a white again, I was a research intern at Infectious Disease Institute – Makerere university. This internship was in light of my give-back idea to contribute to the intervention against antimicrobial resistance and HIV/AIDS in Uganda through scientific research and capacity building. I envisaged that this would have a large laboratory work component in which I would train while supporting the laboratory staff in ongoing studies. Essentially, this internship would bridge the gap between my idea and its execution by giving me more information and skills for feasibility assessment.

My work at IDI was predominantly laboratory-based as I expected: I was exposed to methods used to monitor HIV/AIDS treatment, for antimicrobial testing, and several other components of microbiology and molecular biology. If anything, I was impressed by the capacity Uganda already has to tackle these issues. In my time at IDI, I was able to learn how to monitor drug levels in patient’s blood using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). This remains impressive as a technique to study whether the Antiretroviral drugs HIV patients take actually reach the blood. I was also able to learn and perform various key pieces to infectious disease translational research including but not limited to: Tuberculosis diagnosis, leukocyte cell counts, DNA extraction and the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). As part of my microbiology training, I was also actively involved in preparation and inoculation of media. drug sensitivity tests, biochemical tests and blood culture. However, I was not able to adequately study the relationships between external (and non-Ugandan) researchers and IDI. I was not able to sufficiently learn about the challenges faced in the translation of ideas developed in other parts of the world into Ugandan context and capacity. I did observe some of the challenges but it would have been a lot more rewarding to have a full conversation. This is an opportunity that did not come very often probably because there weren’t many international researchers in the laboratories in which I worked. The staff attributed this to the time of the year of my placement, which is not as work-intensive. At least, this internship has shown me that I have to pay more attention to the details of this cooperative research system since I would have to translate ideas probably not developed within the country.

Nevertheless, I was able to attend a conference during which guests from Cornell university were unveiling a mobile prototype of DNA amplification technology. This was one of the few opportunities I had to network with individuals from an external university, and a different but related field – biomedical engineering. By observing and interacting with the testers of this technology, I learnt more about the intimate relationship between the scientific techniques I am learning and engineering in developing affordable innovations.

Setting up HPLC in the pharmacokinetics lab.

I was able to work in four different laboratories which had slightly different working environments. Generally, all the laboratories were dealing with samples containing virulent pathogens, and hence there were varying levels of risk prevention measures enforced depending on the enforcement by laboratory managers. Working with virulent pathogens was daunting but I was able to work with care under supervision by the staff, especially during training. Many a time, the tension created by the nature of work was mitigated by the socially vibrant environment. The staff were able to socialize even within tasks and still get objectives done – and this is not uncommon from my prior experiences living in Uganda. It is these social moments that constitute the best part of my internship because I was able to become part of the workforce both professionally and socially.

Despite not being able to meet him often during my internship, Dr. Andrew Kambugu, my supervisor was the most influential person I met. There was a lot to learn from the way he interacted with the staff. He was positive, considerate and respectful to everyone including juniors and interns. His style of leadership is atypical in comparison to the highly hierarchal system in many Ugandan workplaces. It is no surprise that he is internationally engaged to represent and foster the research at IDI.

IDI is a dynamic research environment that I would recommend any intern looking to do international-standard infectious disease research in Africa. It would be helpful for interns to know about the risks involved in the laboratory work IDI does and prepare appropriately e.g. get immunizations. Nevertheless, I consider this internship to be an overall success because all these pieces constitute a newfound pool of information from which to derive ideas for my future career research.

08/23/16

Pollution lab 2015/2016

Baby steps…

My involvement at the Chan Yeung Center for Occupational and Enviromental Respiratory Disease (COERD) holds due significance because it was my first step into research in a laboratory. Set up as a dynamic research environment, COERD (also known as pollution lab) was a unique opportunity for me to get my feet into medical research. Pollution lab UBC is involved in momentous research on allergies, respiratory disease and pollution; exploring the interrelations between these and their implications on the control, prevention and treatment of respiratory afflictions. Under the supervision of Dr. Olga Pena, my Mastercard Foundation Scholarship career mentor, I have been exposed to the research process right from publication, grant applications and laboratory work. As of September 2016, one year later, I still intend to volunteer at Pollution lab and my process of learning is ongoing, but a reflection of a remarkable year feels due.

Read, write, Pipet.

Read

My entry into pollution lab was through identifying literature relevant to respiratory research and making literature-review recommendations for the research team. Through this, I was able to learn more about the work that pollution lab does and how it snugly fits into our society’s efforts to tackle the increasing global respiratory health concerns. In slight detail, I was also able to learn about the immunological aspects of the respiratory system. This research has since gone a long way in providing context to my “classroom-concepts”, and providing motivation for me as I try to narrow down my research interests and progress towards graduate studies.

Write

Learning at pollution lab has been full of opportunities to diversify my professional skill set. Maintaining and updating the COERD website  https://pollutionlab.com/  initially came as a challenge; besides the very basic introduction I had to Microsoft FrontPage a few years ago, my understanding of website design has always been limited. Using the WordPress platform on the COERD website has by no means made me an expert but it has expanded my professional creativity and versatility. Having to research and learn new techniques in the process of editing and improving the website has added a skill set I look forward to transferring into customizing WordPress applications  (like this blog!), and any information technology I might have to work with in the future. Through constant mentor-ship, my role has allowed me to translate my ideas and those of the team onto the website through information adverts and other features.

In addition, I have been exposed to advertising for scientific studies. In advertising for the DE3 study, I have designed and distributed posters. I intend to be more involved by reaching out through other advertisement platforms in the future. As advertisement is a dynamic process, I also hope to compare the platforms for effectiveness as I envisage that I might have to be involved in it at some level throughout my career.

 Pipet.

It was not until May 2016 that I had the requisite availability to train effectively at the COERD laboratory in the Jack Bell Research Center at the Vancouver General Hospital. Shadowing in the lab has given life to many immunology concepts I studied in my courses. Learning about the lab work behind the current studies at COERD has given me insight into this cardinal piece to scientific research. Pollution lab has been an opportunity for me to acquire (relatively) early training in many laboratory-relevant techniques. To a greater degree, I have trained in serological testing. Through the aspergillus serological test, I was able to learn about clinical testing right from sample processing to handling information.

The Team.

Despite the keen discipline and diligence that pervades the work environment in and out of the lab, the COERD team is rife with warmth and community. I have found it easy to socialize and interact with everyone. There is also an impressive system to foster socialization through the weekly socials and occasional events. Needless to say, this environment has augmented my training and work here.

As I proceed with my career developed, I look forward to another fruitful year at the UBC pollution lab.

05/25/16

Jumpstart 2015: The vantage point

Vantage point.

I am often asked about my favourite experience at UBC; by now I have figured that it is no coincidence that my mind flashes back to the August in the summer of 2015. Not only do I remember it as a very rejuvenating experience, I recall it to be high up on my list of the most “efficient” periods of my UBC life. August is the time when the first groups of new students arrive at UBC through the jumpstart orientations program. Having failed to make it in time for my own jumpstart in my first year, I was strongly motivated to support other new international students in ways that I was not lucky enough to experience. This is an opportunity that was proffered to me when I was chosen to be an orientations leader (O.L) for the 2015 Jumpstart orientations program.

Kitsilano

With my learning community at Kitsilano.

My roles were centered on co-facilitating orientation for new international students through academic, social and holistic immersion programs. Under the supervision of senior Jumpstart staff, I was part of a closely knit team of over fifty orientations leaders in Totem Park (and over 100 in all residences). My experiences could have easily been limited to the (“job”) roles described above – not to say that they were not cardinal – but there were so many unforeseen pieces of being an orientation leader. There was something exhilarating about being in a position to contribute to the lives of other students here at UBC. I always knew I wanted to find a vantage point to be a positive part of other people’s stories and the jumpstart program turned out to be perfect for this. The connections that I made with the faculty fellows and first year students within my learning community also supported me to grow in leadership and interpersonal relations. Despite following a model for professional relationships, some of these students have turned out to be friends that I have kept in touch with even beyond the two week period.

TT

-With Cindy Shan, my partner O.L.

Closer to my heart however were the experiences I had with other orientation leaders. Having spent a slightly longer time training and meeting daily with this highly motivated group of individuals, I developed very supportive social and professional relationships with many of my colleagues. Since Jumpstart was my first involvement in student development, I was conscious of the fact that I would need support along the way. The sense of community that the team cultivated transcended the support I expected and augmented the energy and impact that I had during the program (and that the program had on me). In many ways, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I still recognize this as a turning point in several aspects of my character and ways of relating to other people. The program required a lot of time and energy, yet also gave a lot of exuberance in return so it was possible to keep

squad

With my O.L squad.

going on from early mornings to late nights. This was to lead to the “Jumpstart hangover” after the three weeks but it was worth every bit of the effort that was put into it. In this same spirit, I developed a good partnership with my Learning community partner (orientation leader) and together we took a step beyond our assigned times to ensure that our learning community created bonds that would last beyond. To this day, I am glad to see students from my learning community that keep in touch and support each other even beyond their first year. It is this “seed” of cohesion that drew me into this role of building community – and spawns the feelings of accomplishment that I attach to my experiences.

 

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With learning community at Beaty Biodiversity museum

My August experience was perhaps a salient personal reflection of efficiency because I was involved in a few other capacities around campus. In this spate of progress, I was accepted into my first role in research at the Chan Yeung Center for Occupational and Environmental respiratory Disease, and also co-organized the 2015 clubs orientation for the Science Undergraduate Society (as the 2015-2016 Clubs Commissioner). I would like to think that I was fairly successful in all the capacities I was involved in at the time. Being part of a warm community in Jumpstart, a driven collaborative network in the Science Undergraduate Society and fundamental scientific (clinical) research merges into one salient memory that has been irrevocably etched in my mind.

I have taken the few past months to reflect on these fast-paced but momentous three weeks of my life. As much I recognize many things that I could have done better (and/or that the program could have done better), I believe these were an amazingly well put 3 weeks that epitomize the highlights of my life at UBC.

 

 

05/11/15

Kwakiutl house council : Starting out close to home.

Date : September 2014 – April 2015

On my first night at the University of British Columbia, I had a momentous meeting with my floor residence adviser, a moment that would change my entire experience as a member of this community. It was the night I was inspired to join the Kwakiutl house council!

In my first week, I applied and was elected as a floor representative for Kwakiutl floor 5; a position i held for my entire first year. Being a member of a house council under the Totem Park Residents Association (TPRA), I actively participated in planning, advertising and organizing of house-wide events, and sometimes, Totem Park-wide events. in addition, I was to convey information and feedback between the residents of Kwakiutl house and the TPRA.

Much as being a new member with minimal orientation posed a lingering challenge for me as a leader in residence, the Kwakitutl house members were a very supportive community. This inspired me to work hard and effectively so that I could in turn, make their experience in first-year residence worth while. It goes with out saying that this experience had several minor but significant successes : winning the Totem Park colour wars, successfully holding house-wide events, and being runners up for the Totem Park residence cup.

Winning Totem Park Colour wars with Kwakiutl house

Winning Totem Park Colour wars with Kwakiutl house

Having not had extensive experience in community leadership before, I was surprised by how much being a leader in such an exuberant community could improve my own personal motivation to take on previously unfamiliar tasks. I realized that I did not have to have to be a very vocal icon in order to have a positive impact in my community. I learnt that leadership was more about being engaged with in the community, than trying to coordinate activities from a distance – that being a leader who was immersed with his members, so much that the role ceased to have a significant tag, and instead worked in unison with the interests of every one was far more rewarding.

Needless to say, this experience was especially socially rewarding. Being part of events meant that I had to interact with members of my community more often than I would have ordinarily. Though my interactions might have initially been regarding my responsibilities, many of the people I interacted with became friends that would hold further significance in the rest of my life here at UBC.

The Kwakiutl house council at the winter formal event.

The Kwakiutl house council 2014- 2015 at the winter formal event.

Put succinctly; I acquired skills in events organizations, community development, interpersonal relations and networking. These are skills that should enable me take on roles in the community, advertise, advocate, etc more effectively. I feel better poised to take up leadership in the community, residence, orientations and clubs – all of which are part of my future goals.

It was a life-changing realization that leadership and service tend to add more value to an individual, than what they take away in terms of time-commitments or challenges. Thumbs up to an experience I will hold dearly for the rest of my life.

Members of Kwakiutl house, fifth floor: end of year.

Members of Kwakiutl house, fifth floor: end of year.