Posts Tagged ‘UBC’

I’m heading into the final stretch of the “go-back-to-school-for-my-second-degree” experiment and UBC reminds me again of why they piss me off so damn much.  I didn’t take out students loans this time around because when I was young and stupid and financially irresponsible, I racked up almost $40k in student loans.  I don’t want any more.  But I do want my interest-free period while I’m in classes.

So a week ago I went online, filled in my interest-free request for the summer session.  Done.  Right?

I got this message back today:

You have applied for and have been assessed for government student loan funding from Student Aid BC or have applied online for interest-free status for the Summer 2011 session. However, UBC is unable to confirm your enrolment because you are not meeting the minimum loan requirements. The specific error with your registration is that you have more than 10 business days between the end and start dates of your classes in total.

Please keep in mind; to be eligible for loans with during Summer Session you must satisfy all of the following criteria:

*       Enrol in at least 9 credits (audited, wait-listed and withdrawn courses do not count)

*       Enrol in a combination of courses that together form a study period that is at least 12 consecutive weeks long. Individual courses can be shorter than 12 weeks

*       Have no breaks longer than 10 working days between courses

I’m taking 3 classes, for 9 credits which total at least 12 weeks in length.  Otherwise known as a full time course load.  But with the way UBC structures summer terms, there happens to be a break of more than 10 classes between my term 1 classes and my term 2 classes.  AGHHHHHHHHH.

Mainly I’m pissed off because if the break had been at the beginning or at the end of the summer, there would be no problem and I would get some interest relief.  But just because the break is in the middle, I don’t get any interest relief, despite still taking the correct number of credits and class hours in total.


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There was another flurry articles appearing in student media this past week over UBC’s animal use.

UBC publication The Ubyssey published an article and a well written opinion piece, remarking on the difficult nature of the debate.  Indeed, they echo many of my own sentiments when they remark that “moderate, progressive voices” are needed in this debate.  Mud slinging and fear mongering on both sides does nothing for animal welfare.  Until people are willing to talk rationally about the issues, no real progress can be made for either side.

It’s gotten to the point where being concerned about animal welfare is enough to send people into a frenzy of recrimination and accusations, while being a biomedical researcher arouses suspicion and distrust.  No doubt this blog will get passed around in numerous clandestine emails where I will be alternately skewered or praised by people too afraid to talk about their own opinions.  And why are people afraid?  Part of it is because we have not done a good enough job of educating our researchers and technicians about ethics and educating our public about science.

That’s one of the reasons I found my university ethics classes to be so insightful – it taught you to leave the emotion aside, think critically about an issue, and look at the scientific, ethical and philosophical arguments on both sides of a debate.   This is an important skill that I feel a lot of people are lacking.

Unsurprisingly, I was the only science-oriented researcher present in a 40-person class on biomedical ethics.  😛

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In my undergrad, I took a course on phytogeography.  When I chose it, it was mainly because there was no lab and I liked the prof!  But it turned out to be one of the most interesting classes I took – the things I learned were wide-ranging in scope and helped me to understand why the world is the way it is.  🙂

This new 5 part series is a peek into biogeography – what it is, how we study it and why it’s important.  And although the focus of the class was on plant dispersal, I will include many animal examples, as most of the core principles apply to all living things.

Have you ever wondered why Australia is home to so many unique mammals?  Questioned the limited range of species such as Dawn Redwood or California’s Clarkia?  Compared your garden cucumbers to that of the cucumber tree? Or perhaps you’ve fished in both the Atlantic and the Pacific and noticed the striking similarities between shrimp species in these very separate oceans.

All these examples are the result of different types of distribution and can be explained by an interesting field of study called “biogeography”.

Biogeography is defined by Wikipedia as “the study of the distribution of species spatially and temporally”.  This field looks at how species and populations are distributed, usually in references to animals.  Phytogeography is the branch of biogeography that is concerned with the geographic distribution of plant species specifically, from controls on the distribution of individual species ranges (at both large and small scales, see species distribution) to the factors that govern the composition of entire communities and floras.

Biogeography can be divided into two main branches: Ecological biogeography and Historical biogeography. The former investigates the role of current day biotic and abiotic interactions in influencing species distributions; the latter are concerned with historical reconstruction of the origin, dispersal, and extinction of taxa.

When we talk about species distribution, we might be talking about local populations or species as a whole. In both cases, the distribution is affected by factors which include: dispersal ability, abiotic factors (temperature, light, salinity), biological factors (competition, breeding systems, pollinators), historical factors (plate tectonics, glaciation), and human interactions. Over time, some of these factors may become more important than others.

Over the next few blogs, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of these factors and discussing how they have affected current and historical species distribution.


UBC BIOL412 notes, Professor Michael Hawkes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogeography [accessed Nov 23, 2010]

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It’s finally here!

The UBC Beaty Biodiversity Museum opened it’s doors today, Oct 16, to the public after a series of tantalizing summer previews.

I was there mid-afternoon and wow, there was a lot to see! Volunteers in red shirts were swarming the area, ready and eager to answer questions from the public. I was gratified to see so many people volunteering for the museum but a part of me was bitter – why did it take UBC so long to bring this museum into the public eye?

The entrance to the museum is the same as during the previews: an awe-inspiring, 360 degree walk around the blue whale skeleton to the lower levels. Once there, rows upon rows of carefully sealed cabinets held the vertebrate, avian, fish, fungi, plant, bug and fossil collections. Each cabinet was labeled with beautiful photographs of the contents, a far cry from the sticker-and-marker approach taken when the specimens were housed in the old Biology building!

And most importantly – the displays!

Many of the specimens that UBC owns were donated from private collections amassed in the 1800s and early 1900s, when it was more popular to have mounted stuffed animals on display. Included in this group are numerous antlered species and a beautiful penguin specimen! More recent specimens are thanks to the diligence of volunteers (like myself in days gone by!) who painstakingly turn dead animals (often road kill or birds who have crashed into glass buildings) into carefully dried and preserved specimens which can be used for teaching, display and research.

Now, interspersed between the cabinets, these specimens are proudly on display. Mounted birds, jars of fish, carefully pressed plants and even fossils, embedded into the floor – all this, and more!

Many activities were running during opening day, including cake cutting, a presentation from Dr. Wayne Maddison, and a scavenger hunt that earned participants a pin to take home.

For myself, my favourite activity was the craft station, where participants were asked to write a message on a maple leaf shaped piece of construction paper. The messages would adorn a wall in the far end of the museum. I dedicated my leaf to the late Dr. Rex Kenner, who worked tirelessly in the museum, maintaining the collections year after year, with UBC cutting the budget, limiting work hours, and generally being the pain in the ass bureaucracy that it is. My leaf read: “For Rex Kenner – It’s finally open!”.

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I squealed like a 10 year old girl today when I found out the news 🙂 The Beaty Biodiversity Museum, located at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, is scheduled to officially open October 16. Finally! They’ve had series of tantalizing “previews” throughout the summer, but this is finally the real thing!

The website suggests that the “treasure trove” of specimens will be available for the public to view on the 16th and 17th. I desperately hope this is true – these gems have been locked away in a dusty wing of the Biology building for far too long! I was disappointed earlier in the summer when I attended the preview and only saw a handful of specimens on display so I’m really crossing my fingers on this!

Hours are 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Mondays and Tuesdays are reserved for research.

Passes are $12 for an adult or $35 for a family. Free for current UBC staff and students!
If you’re a UBC alumni, bring a friend and admission is 2 for 1!

Remember, this is a research and teaching collection – Many of these specimens have been lovingly prepared by volunteers (such as yours truly, back in the day) and over-worked curators (Rex Kenner – I don’t forget you! Your baby is finally open) who make memories from road kill. Be respectful, be ready to learn, and be in awe of the AMAZING diversity of life you will find.

Check out the website! I’ll be there on opening day!

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The UBC/animal research debacle continues this past week with an article in the Georgia Strait.

I am cautiously supportive. Even though I believe that animal research is sometimes justified (AFTER exhaustive tissue culture testing and AFTER we understand a certain system well and ONLY IF the people using the animals are well trained in both methodology and ethics… which doesn’t happen nearly enough…)

I think that any amount of attention towards the welfare of animal research is a good thing. 🙂

I used to work in animal research, as I’ve mentioned before. A lot of things convinced me to change careers, and this was one of them.

One of the turning points for me was a biomedical ethics course I took at UBC. I took this class after I had been out of school and working in biomedical research for a few years. Initially, I only took it because I thought it would be an easy class. But in the end, it really opened my eyes. Even though the class focused on human biomedical ethical decisions, much of the underlying theory can be applied to research animal ethics. And I realized then, that a lot of biomedical research cannot be justified morally. Some, yes. But not all.

For example, one underlying idea in moral philosophy and ethics is the idea of “use”. Do we have a right to “use” another creature for our own purposes? Many would argue yes from a utilitarian perspective – the argument of “the greater good”. But even while “using” we have responsibilities.

The Canadian Council for Animal Care recognizes animals as sentient – in other words, capable of feeling, capable of pain. Of suffering. There are good guidelines in place in this book. And yet, they are not mandatory. And yet, UBC continues to let researchers with foreign credentials do research on mice with standards that are unacceptable in North America. There are labs which refuse to give animals the proper pain medications or use proper, sterilized instruments. Veterinarians are handcuffed by institutional rules which do not allow them to conduct surprise visits on animal facilities. Technicians who care for the animals are overworked and under-educated, and not allowed the time to train properly.

So what would I tell UBC?
Teach your technicians and students and staff how to use and care for animals so that we do not use more than necessary. Stop allowing PIs to coerce grad students into to use mice just so that they can get their name on another publication. And give the public the means to shut down those labs who violate the standards of animal care in North America.

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And AGAIN another reason to educate the general public about the realities of biomedical research involving animals – the Vancouver Sun now reports that animal rights activists are getting more curious about the animal-based research at UBC and affiliated hospitals.

I had heard news of this through the grapevine a few weeks ago actually and I’m not surprised it broke popular media. Science does a very poor job of explaining why animals need to be used in research. Often, the only time it gets publicity is when bad things happen. Couple this with the extreme lack of education provided to many animal handlers, the fact that many studies actually shouldn’t be or don’t need to be using animals, and the lack of public education on the issue… you have a bad situation all around.

Part of me is sympathetic. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with when it comes to animal research in Vancouver. When I worked in the field, there were things that definitely should not have happened. And those need to be fixed, without a doubt. Certainly those aspects of research played a big part in my decision to change careers. But at the same time, I understand the reasons for using animals in certain types of research when used correctly and ethically. The sad part is when this does not happen 😦

Photo by Dale Tidy

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