A rat’s tale

Through the academic lab..

My initial expectations of the Microbiology and Immunology (MBIM) major at UBC were rife with laboratory-based research courses. And before long, I was well on my way to finally becoming a lab rat. Ascertaining that I was going to spend half of my degree doing chemistry and biology laboratory courses was particularly dispiriting.

BIOL 140 – Studying the behavior of p.vulgaris

Over the course of these first two years, I did CHEM 121, CHEM 123 and CHEM 235 which were mostly focused on inorganic and organic chemistry techniques. I also did BIOL 140 which was a change from the chemistry scenery but still far from my expectations. However, I learnt to appreciate these courses more because they brought life to classroom concepts in my chemistry courses at the time. My craving for research in MBIM was far from quenched at the time, but they provided a valuable foundation for my courses. Reflections on my experiences in BIOL 140 can be found in my other blog.

My promotion to third year standing in the 2016/2017 winter session cleared my path to laboratory learning in microbiology and immunology. MICB 322 and MICB 323 offered me academic laboratory experience through the MBIM program. Through MICB 322 (winter term 1), I was introduced to fundamental microbiology techniques like: inoculation of agar broth and plates, gram staining, isolation and identification of bacterial species, biochemical testing, API testing, antibiotic sensitivity testing, and general dilutions.

MICB 322 – Staphylococci growing on agar plates.

Interweaved with these were molecular techniques like: protein quantification, spectrophotometry, DNA extraction, Genomic DNA digests and transformation, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), running agarose gels, DNA sequencing and using BLAST for identification of genes. More importantly, I isolated and identified a staphylococcus species from my skin using various biochemical tests, antibiotic sensitivity tests and PCR. This project was written up in the Journal of bacteriology format (without a methods section), and will always serve as my first laboratory-based project/study. In addition to learning more about my own microbiota, this project is something I can always use as a reference point as I aim to improve my writing in the future.

I proceeded to MICB 323 (winter term 2) which in addition to providing a host of learning experiences, turned out to be more academically challenging. MICB 323 was more heavily focussed on molecular biology and virology. I honed some of the aforementioned skills, and was introduced to: eukaryotic cell culture, protein expression systems, ELISAs and western blots for protein quantification and identification, viral infection and cultures, RT qPCR, and theories underlying flow cytometry. Doing this course exposed to me some of my crucial strengths and weaknesses. The more challenging parts during this course were preliminary calculations which dominated the quizzes and exams, but my performance was exalted by the written assignments. This ascertained confidence in my ability to write and present my research, and highlighted the need to improve how quickly I grasped calculations for experimental set up.

In the 2017/2018 academic year, I will be doing MICB 401 and directed studies (MICB448). This promises more independence in laboratory research but I look forward to exploring my research interests and expanding my abilities in and out of the lab. I will update this blog to include my reflections for this course.


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.


Small town, big dreams


Last Christmas, I had the opportunity to travel to Westerville Ohio for the holidays. Dr. Opiyo Steven, a faculty member from Ohio State University and personal family connection, was my host. This trip was my first time to plan distant travel; I was as anxious as I was excited. This was also the first Christmas I spent with family ever since moving to Canada for my university education. I fondly recall the taste of typical Ugandan food, which I had not had out of Uganda before. I also recall the warm feeling of being around family, and being able to interact with international guests.

With Dr. Opiyo at Colombus zoo.

While in Ohio, I spent most of my time in Westerville, a small town close to Colombus. I explored the commercial horticulture farm where Mrs. Opiyo worked. Towards the end of my trip, I explored Colombus city where I spent most of my time at Ohio state university. More importantly, I had a tour of Dr. Opiyo’s research laboratory and a conversation about his work in bioinformatics. In addition to reinforcing my perception of bioinformatics as an increasingly relevant and lucrative career, I had an opportunity to speak to Dr. Opiyo about his experiences establishing his professional career in North America as an immigrant from Uganda. I also learnt a lot from his innovations, and big dreams for diversifying the nature of his data analysis work. I find his experiences inspirational especially as I plan to apply for graduate school to advance my research career next year after graduation.

In as much as I had well-deserved moments to rest after a challenging academic term, there were many moments of learning on this trip.


The presidential pit stop 2017


With Dr. Santa Ono (center back), the student ambassador team and one of the award winners (center front).

This year, I was selected to attend the annual leadership recognition event at the Robert H. Lee alumni center. Much like last year, I found myself surrounded by a remarkable congregation of outstanding UBC students. However, my involvements since then have drastically changed. My on-campus involvements have shifted from student society (Science Undergraduate Society) and orientations (Jumpstart), to representing UBC as a student ambassador. Akin to my role of representing student clubs as part of the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) clubs commission, my work as a student ambassador with the International Student Initiative proffers an opportunity to represent the university to prospective students. In a way, the nature of my involvements has not changed much but only evolved in form. And regardless of this nature, it has all been driven by my enthusiasm to serve a community that has been fundamental to my personal development. It is this enthusiasm that Dr. Santa Ono, the UBC president and host of the event, encouraged in student leaders that day. This encouragement culminated with the conferring of a special book Injustice to all attendees. This was a token to complement the noble motivations behind the contributions for which we were being recognized. Outstanding students, one of whom was a fellow student ambassador, were also conferred special awards for their achievements.

This event was my second invitation to a breakfast hosted by the UBC president in the 2016/2017 academic year. Although it did not offer as much opportunity for direct dialogue Dr. Santa Ono, there was more to take from the larger group of student leaders. This day was an opportunity to enjoy overdue conversations with over-achievers from all over campus in the company of scrumptious finger-food and live music