Instructor Spotlight – Michelle Tseng

Michelle standing in front of an original 1920 Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post, in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

I am an assistant professor of insect and aquatic ecology at UBC.  I have a BSc and MSc from University of Toronto and a PhD from Indiana University. I mostly teach general ecology and insect ecology. In 2019, I also co-taught Arctic ecology with Dr. Sean Michaletz and that was super fun.

In general, my lab team researches the effects of global warming on insect and aquatic communities. We use lab and field experiments to investigate how ecological communities have already changed, and will continue to change, with climate warming. Our research has been funded by NSERC, CFI, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

How has your unique background influenced your teaching experience?

As an undergraduate student I was totally overwhelmed and it took me two solid years to figure out what was expected of me and how to get good marks. I really had no idea what I was doing. I think I can empathize a bit with undergrads, especially those who are struggling, because I was in their shoes too.

What is something you are currently doing in your course that you are excited about?

This year in Biol230 (Fundamentals of Ecology), we spent four Friday classes learning about and discussing the David Suzuki Foundation’s Butterflyway program. We applied the fundamental concepts we were learning in class to this citizen science initiative. On the 4th class, the regional coordinator of the Butterflyway program joined our class and students were able to give their input on the efficacy of this program. I was really happy to be able integrate this real-world program into our class.

What is a memorable anecdote from your own undergraduate experience?

From day one of undergrad, I was really attracted to research. I threw myself at every research opportunity I could find, even if I was totally not qualified. For one of these positions, the prof could tell that I was clearly out of my league. He called me into his office and said, “Michelle, just read this book and you’ll be fine.” The book was the 900 page “Population Biology of Plants” by John Harper.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

When I’m not working at UBC, you can find me taking pictures, playing board games with my kids, or trying to teach my very stubborn dog new tricks.

What is a fun fact about you that people may not know?

My dream job (other than the one I have now) is to be the lead photographer for Disney Nature/Netflix Our Planet documentaries.

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