TA Spotlight – Jack Bacon

Photo source: Jack Bacon

Jack is a PhD candidate in the Wyatt lab at the Vancouver Prostate Centre, a joint UBC/VCH research facility located on the Vancouver General Hospital campus. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of British Columbia and initially enrolled in the Master of Science program in the faculty of Genome Science and Technology. In 2018, he transferred from the MSc program into the PhD program and passed his comprehensive exam in May 2020.

Jack’s research employs genomic and bioinformatic techniques to profile cancers of the genitourinary system (kidneys, bladder, and testes). Specifically, Jack studies cell-free DNA (cfDNA) – a circulating nucleic acid that is released by dying cells and can be recovered from blood and other bodily fluids. His research involves isolating the tumour-derived components of cell-free DNA, aptly named “circulating tumour DNA”, in order to noninvasively profile the tumor genome.

Jack began his teaching career as a TA for BIOL200, but for the past several terms has served as the senior TA for BIOL 341 (Introductory Molecular Biology Laboratory).

What do you most enjoy about being a TA?

Being a PhD student can be quite isolating! I spend the bulk of my waking hours in front of a screen or behind a lab bench, so having the opportunity to visit campus and talk to my students is a huge relief. It also provides much needed structure to my days – as a researcher, things are often done at your own pace, and you need to be very intrinsically motivated to achieve your goals. Having fixed hours to teach structured material keeps me from feeling totally aimless some weeks!

How has your unique background influenced your TA experience?

Certainly, TAing is not for the shy or the faint of heart; there are a lot of eyes on you at all times! Luckily, outside of academia, I teach debate and public speaking to high school students across the province. This means that if you get me as your TA you can expect someone who talks very loudly, but also will try their best to explain something as clearly, or from as many different angles, as possible.

What is something that you have done in the UBC teaching and learning space that you are particularly proud of?

During the COVID19 lockdown, we were very unsure as to how we were going to teach BIOL341 without access to the lab facilities. Together with Dr. Maryam Moussavi, I worked on a series of “Bill Nye-esqe” instructional videos where I performed each week’s lab from start to finish for the students to watch. These were so well received by our students in the 2020-21 school year that we have decided to keep them as part of the course even after our return to in-person learning.

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

My peers at the hospital definitely all know this, but perhaps my UBC colleagues do not. I’m absolutely obsessed with holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas! Every year I go all out for the VPC Halloween costume contest and turn my office into a spooky graveyard. At Christmas I’m even worse and have even been granted the honorary title “Chief Executive of Christmas” for my role in planning the annual centre holiday party.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

Things aren’t always going to go exactly as planned. Plan as you go and don’t let any perceived “failures” undermine the continued pursuit of your goals!

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