TA Spotlight – Wesley Gerelle

Wesley Gerelle
Photo source: Wesley Gerelle

Wesley was born in Surrey, BC but grew up in Kelowna, BC. He pursued a BSc in Biology at UBCO and then transferred to UBC Vancouver to complete it. He started out thinking he’d be in a zoology field, but ended up falling for botany after taking an introduction to vascular plants course (BIOL 210).

Wesley joined Sean Graham’s lab for a PhD to study the evolution of mycoheterotrophic plants. Mycoheterotrophs are plants that are parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi, and he investigates how this lifestyle affects the genome of these plants.

Wesley has been a TA for BIOL 140, 200, 210, and 336. His favourite course is BIOL 210, as he gets to spend all lab session discussing plants.

What do you most enjoy about being a TA?

Having students challenge me with questions I don’t know the answer to. It leads me and the student to try and find out the answer, which is a great learning experience for the student and also increases my knowledge. I’m currently teaching BIOL 210 for the fourth time and there’s so much to know and learn about plants that I still receive novel questions from students.

What opportunities relating to teaching and learning have you been a part of?

I have completed the BioTAP program at UBC which teaches new TAs best practices in teaching. I’ve also completed the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) at the UBC CTLT which taught me the theory behind the teaching practices I was using. Finally, I have learned a lot from Dr. Robin Young, who was my TA coordinator for BIOL 200, about the most effective teaching styles and methods.

What is something that you are currently doing in the UBC teaching and learning space that you are excited about?

The new teaching wing of the biology building has new room designs including a lack of usable whiteboards to present information and draw diagrams for the lab that day. As a result, I’ve had to develop new ways of presenting this information, such as PowerPoints and using doc cams. I don’t get many opportunities as a TA to try out new methods, so this has been an exciting endeavour.

What is a memorable anecdote from your own undergraduate experience?

When I took BIOL 210 as an undergraduate, one lecture discussed how some plants don’t photosynthesize and instead are parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi. My interest was piqued as I’d always thought of mycorrhizal associations as a perfect symbiosis, but in fact there are cheaters in the system! I went to discuss this with the professor after class and in the end that professor became my PhD advisor and I went on to work with mycoheterotrophic plants.

What are your plans following graduation?

Pursue teaching opportunities at the post-secondary level in biology or find a research position in some field of plant evolution.

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