Shining Student Fabian Rohden was completing his master's thesis in Germany when he met a uLethbridge student during a United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt. This inspired Fabian to continue his studies at the University of Lethbridge combining biochemical research with science policy.
Working with some of the brightest and most motivated students in biochemistry and neuroscience and seeing them succeed was a great experience. However, seeing these students surpassing the achievements, skills and knowledge I had in my undergrad is the most satisfying experience one can get out of a TAship.
Please tell us about your work-integrated learning experiences at uLethbridge?
I participate in the RNA Innovation program at the U of L, which is done in cooperation with the University of Sherbrooke and is part of a training program from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Within RNA Innovation, students and Postdocs gain experience at working in industry. We all form a team to work on an industrial research project using the Synbridge laboratory at the U of L. As part of the program, every trainee has to do a separate industry internship anywhere in Canada. Taken together, this gives students a broad, and practical experience on how working in industry differs from working in academia, and what skill sets are needed.
What has been your most memorable uLethbridge experience so far?
Being the Teaching Assistant for the U of L Collegiate iGEM (internationally Genetically Engineered Machine) team, an international student competition in Synthetic Biology takes place for one year. There is no curriculum, and no one can tell you how to be a TA. You need to advise and supervise the team management, the project design and the laboratory work throughout the year. At the same time, you need to teach the students, who do all this work voluntarily on top of their curriculum, to solve problems independently and be in charge of their project. You have to work towards making yourself obsolete, which requires a lot of engagement from your side. Working with some of the brightest and most motivated students in biochemistry and neuroscience and seeing them succeed was a great experience. However, seeing these students surpassing the achievements, skills and knowledge I had in my undergrad is the most satisfying experience one can get out of a TAship.
Your projects are your responsibility, but success is a group effort.
What is the most important lesson you have learned so far at uLethbridge?
During the pandemic, I realized that both research and learning are social activities and that video calls cannot fully substitute in-person interactions. You can learn in isolation and research with your computer, but not having regular and spontaneous chats with colleagues and other university students for extended periods really impedes your success in problem-solving. Your projects are your responsibility, but success is a group effort.
Is there someone specific who has had an important influence on your uLethbridge experience?
Davinder Kaur in our research group patiently introduced me to the details about computational biology and its methods. Learning about programming and how to simulate the behaviour molecules really expanded my view and changed how I conducted my research. Without her, that would have been impossible.
Is there anything you wish you knew in your first semester that you know now?
I started my first semester with an internship at the Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg and only entered Canada upon my second term. Coming from Germany, I had only a faint idea of how important grants/awards/scholarships are for your academic career in Canada. However, I did not fully understand how much you need to build a track record of such awards to get further awards. I wish I had known this before and started right from day one to invest more time into applying for awards.
What advice would you give to those who are about to begin their uLethbridge journey?
Your day easily gets filled up with classes, assignments and other tasks. Therefore, you should regularly step back and ask yourself what you will gain from doing a certain activity. Prioritize those activities that improve your skills and move you forward in the long run.
Favourite class: Advances in Biotechnology with biochemistry professor Dr. Trushar Patel
Favourite social activity at uLethbridge: Events at the Zoo
Favourite place to study: Terrace at the Science Commons (in the Summer)