Peer Tutor Spotlight – Madina Kagieva & Taylor Reilly

Madina Kagieva and Taylor Reilly

Madina Kagieva and Taylor Reilly met and became good friends when they took BIOL 463 last year. Since then they have collaborated on instructional materials for BIOL 463, co-presented a CTLT Remote Teaching Institute workshop, founded and serve as Co-Presidents for the AMS Medical Genetics Club, and currently work together as peer tutors in the BIOL 463 course this term.

For Taylor and Madina, it all started in BIOL 436, and now as peer tutors in this course, they are working to create an environment where other students can also benefit. As Madina states, “I met Taylor last year in BIOL 463 class, and we quickly became great friends. Our friendship helped me excel both academically and interpersonally, so I was very happy to return as a peer tutor and hopefully facilitate interactions between the students and foster a positive learning space, where people get to meet their own ‘Taylor.’ :)”

Keep reading to learn more about Madina and Taylor, their experience as peer tutors, what they’re up to, and their plans for the future.

Where are you from?

Taylor: I grew up in Richmond, BC, so being at UBC hasn’t physically taken me very far from home. However, it has exposed me to a ton of new experiences, and it does sometimes feel like a whole new world!

Madina enjoying the winter

Madina: I am originally from Russia, so being in Vancouver has been an interesting experience for me. Nature here is breathtaking! I miss the abundance of snow though, so I like going up the mountains during the winter to enjoy the “Russian Christmas feel”.


Where are you in your degree?

Taylor: I’m in my final year studying towards a B.Sc. in Honours Biology, with a focus on genetics. I currently do research for my thesis project at the BC Cancer Institute, and I’m a wet lab member (as is Madina!) on the UBC International Genetically Engineered Machine Team (iGEM). Over the summer, our team was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic to create a software tool that can predict viral evolution – you can check it out here:

Madina: I am also in my last year of a Biology degree, mostly taking medical genetics and genomics-based classes. Currently, I’m doing research at BC Children’s Hospital studying cell death mechanisms and its applications to treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

What has being a peer tutor brought to your undergraduate experience?

Taylor: Being a peer tutor has helped me become more comfortable taking on leadership positions. I really enjoy that I can help others learn, and I’m grateful that others do the same for me! It’s helped me recognize that my voice matters and to become more confident in my level of knowledge. As a student, you’re rarely put in the position to teach others, so it meant a lot to me that Dr. Kalas believed in my ability and asked me to take on this position.

Madina: I really like interacting with students! Everybody in the class is so engaged and willing to learn, and their questions are always high-level and well-thought out. Given that I’ve taken the class before and am familiar with the material already, their questions make me look at it from a different perspective, so every class I’m learning something new alongside the students. I also realized that I really enjoy teaching and helping others, so this position further encouraged me to pursue an academia-based track, where I can both do research and connect with students.

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

Taylor: Over the summer, Madina and I were both able to take part in a CTLT Remote Teaching Institute presentation on Wikipedia based assignments. It was really exciting to be able to share our opinions and work, and it made me feel like my voice as a student really mattered to the teaching community here. I loved the Wikipedia assignment because it felt as though I was able to contribute knowledge and understanding to the public sphere, rather than only submitting work for my own learning benefit and a grade. This brought a new level of meaning to the assignment!

Madina: I loved the Wikipedia assignment, and the presentation at CTLT that we were kindly invited to be a part of! Additionally, I volunteer at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum here on campus, so I have lots of experience in facilitating science-based discussions with people from different backgrounds. I’m also an educator at – an online platform that connects people interested in a specific field of science with a person that studies this particular area and explains material in a “digestible” way.

What is something you are currently doing at UBC that you are excited about?

Taylor: I’ve just been chosen as one of the iGEM wet lab team leads for this upcoming year, and I’m incredibly excited to be part of this awesome subgroup and to welcome our new members. We’re about to begin brainstorming ideas for this year’s project, which is always interesting (and competitive)! The process ends when we find a project we’re passionate about and really believe we can make a reality, which is an amazing goal to make and see through.We weren’t able to actually run experiments in the lab last year due to the pandemic, so I’m very much looking forward to finally getting hands on experience in genetic engineering this summer.

Madina: I am planning a new research seminar that has not been previously offered at UBC, Ethics of Genetic Engineering (BIOL 490A), which I will be facilitating next term. The academic focus of this seminar will be centered around learning about new and exciting technologies and research regarding genetic engineering, followed by ethics-based discussions of associated inherent issues with the tools. I am super excited for that class, since I designed all the curriculum, structure and grading myself, and what’s more important, I will get to discuss the topics that I am passionate about with other like-minded individuals who are just as interested in them as I am. I feel like as science students, we get so caught up with the theoretical side of things and forget about the ethics; I strongly believe that every researcher should operate with principles of justice and equity, and my hope is that this class will help build that foundation for prospective students.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Taylor and Boe

Taylor: I love walking my dog, Boe, in pacific Spirit forest! I think we’re incredibly lucky to have so many beautiful spaces at UBC, and I find it really calming to be outside.


Madina: I am not a very outdoorsy person, so I like to stay at home and read my books. I also live right beside Queen Elizabeth Park, so I would go there for my morning runs, it’s a great way to start the day and relieve the stress.

What are your plans following graduation?

Taylor: I absolutely loved all the genetics classes I’ve been able to take as an undergraduate at UBC, including the gene regulation course I’m peer tutoring. My goal is to attend graduate school to study molecular genetics, and specifically cancer cell genetic interactions. I’m in the process of applying to schools right now, so we’ll see how that goes (fingers crossed)!

Madina: Thanks to the BIOL 463 class, Taylor and I are great friends now, so we’re applying to the same grad schools with a hope to “relocate” together. I am really intrigued by gene therapy approaches and stem cells, so I will be applying to schools with those streams.

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