Saturday, 9 July 2016

How to get involved at UBC?

Why you should get involved at UBC?

  • Make friends :) There are a lot of students, the easiest way to make friends is by getting involved where you all share at least one thing in common. 
  • Gain "leadership" experience. As cliche as this sounds, university is the best time to learn new skills especially things outside of your degree. All it takes is signing up or stepping up to the plate. You'll be surprised how much you can pick up from activities like running committees, organizing social events, writing newspaper articles, or working with kids. 
  • Try something new. Being a Science student doesn't mean you can't volunteer as a photographer for a newspaper, work as a stage manager for SLC (Student Leadership Conference), go on work trips with VOC (Varsity Outdoor Club) etc. There is nothing like good peer pressure to encourage you to try something you've always wanted to (skydiving, anyone?). 

How should I get involved?

  1. Establish your goal for getting involved. Is it to improve certain skills like public speaking, make friends, keep playing an instrument, try new things etc?
  2. What level of involvement do you want? For example, being the president of AMS is basically a full-time job while being a photographer for a club is much lower commitment.
  3. Where do you want to get involved? UBC has many different areas to get involved from student life, student politics, academic to community. I will attempt to list some from each area. Note: many of these areas overlap  
Student Life: 
  • Rez Life (become a floor rep, residence advisor etc)
  • Join AMS Clubs (from different hobby clubs, activist clubs to various culture clubs, there are tons of options to choose from) Shameless pitch for my old club: check out Shine On Music if you want to teach violin to elementary students. 
  • UBC Rec (work at the Bird Coop, organize intramurals & events) 
Student Politics:
  • Faculty constituencies/ student associations (ex. Science Undergraduate Society - SUS) There are multiple ways to get involved. From first year council, different committee positions to elected members (President, VP positions), there are tons of positions for interested students. 
  • AMS Again there are elected positions for President & VP positions, but there are also lots of committee positions. 
  • Senate/ Board of Governors These are elected positions only. 
  • Volunteer or Paid Research Positions Check out UBC Careers Online or URO for more details, UBC's work-learn program is nice way to get paid (and learn something)
  • Department Student Clubs While most positions tend to be elected, there are opportunities to get involved without going through the election process
  • Teaching Assistant/ Peer Tutor Typically senior undergraduate students have the opportunity to TA classes they previously did well in. This is extremely common for students in computer science or math. 
  • Again some AMS Clubs focus on reaching out to the community
  • Volunteer teaching opportunities Lots of organizations need volunteers to teach & mentor elementary & high school students. Examples include Let's Talk Science, Science Fairs, and Aquarium. 
  • Want a year-long volunteer opportunity? UBC's Centre for Community Engaged Learning organizes the Trek Program which is a 6-month commitment. 
  • Want a short(er) volunteer opportunity? Check out UBC's Reading Week run by UBC's Centre for Community Engaged Learning. 
  • Have an amazing idea to help your community? Apply for UBC grants here

Got more ideas about how you can get involved? Comment below :) 

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Graduation Student Speaker

What is the graduation class speaker's role?

The primary role is to announce the graduating class gift(s) to the university during the ceremony. The AMS has already solicited ideas from the student body and so the gifts have already been decided. The designated speaker will be given the list to read. The second role is to speak briefly about your undergraduate experience and/or what graduation means to you.

How do I apply to be the graduation Student speaker?

Typically for the Faculty of Science, faculty will nominate names to the Science Associate Dean of Students (Dr. Paul Harrison for 2016). In mid-March, he will email potential students to submit a short 100 - 150 word draft speech if they are interested in the role. Dr. Harrison then proceeds to choose one speaker per ceremony (for Science, there are 4 speakers total).

Graduation Day for the Student Speaker

An hour / an hour and a half before the ceremony time, go downstairs to get your robe + hood. (Remember to pre-rent your robe online EARLY)

30 minutes before your designated ceremony time, head upstairs to the Theo Lounge and meet the Chancellor's Procession which includes UBC President, Chancellor, Faculty Dean & associate deans, Marshall etc. There is food and drinks in the lounge, so you can grab a bite to eat. The ceremony organizers will talk you through the entire procedure from when and where to sit, the order of the speakers etc. 

10 minutes before ceremony time, the Chancellor Procession will begin to walk towards the Chan Centre. All the other students have already entered the hall. The Procession enters from the back of the theatre and marches up to the stage, the Student Speaker sits in the first row, stage left (so wear nice shoes :P ). Remain standing until everyone is on stage and the Chancellor asks everyone to sit. After the President speaks, it is your turn. Question I still have: are you suppose to remove your cap for O Canada? 

The Student Speaker will have 3 minutes to sing, rap, talk however they like except they must include the pre-written graduating class gift blurb. Your speech must also be approved beforehand, typically around 300 words max. 

After the speech, the Student Speaker returns to their seat and waits until their procession number is lining up. Then the Marshall will direct you off stage to join your classmates. After walking across the stage rather than following your classmates back off stage, the Student Speaker walks around the back of the stage to their original seat on stage. 

During various parts of the ceremony, the Chancellor will ask graduating students to stand. Please follow their instructions despite being one of the only people standing on stage and it's super awkward. 

At the end of the ceremony, the Student Speaker will follow the Chancellor Procession out of the auditorium. Be sure to take pictures with people in the Procession before everyone else exits. :P 

Why you should apply to be Student Speaker?

It is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and makes your graduation extremely memorable. Despite writing the speech being an extremely frustrating process of writing/ re-writing/ re re-writing, the adrenaline of speaking to a full auditorium is amazing. Another cool perk of being Student Speaker is meeting the Honourary Degree recipients afterwards at their reception. 

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Honours degree or not?

Honours degree or not?

The requirements for Honours differ by major, for official information please refer to the UBC Academic Calendar (,215,410,404).

What is an Honours (MICB) degree? 
Essentially it is a way for the university to acknowledge your focus in your specialization and relatively good academic standing during your degree. The blue requirements are the same across Science Faculty, but the exact requirements vary slightly per department. 
  • Take at least 30 credits each year except for your last year and/or if you are on co-op
  • Maintain a minimum 68% overall average every year
  • Requires 132 credits to graduate compared to the 120 credits for Majors
  • Take additional courses required for Honours (for MICB, this includes additional MICB courses of your choice including one seminar + MICB 430 + MICB 449)
  • Complete a graduating Honours thesis (MICB 449). See for details.

What recognition do I get if I do a Major (or Honours), but get really high grades?
When you graduate, if you achieve 85.0% average of 30 credits (varies on major, but typically a select list of 3rd/ 4th year required courses) and graduate with good standing, your degree will include a "with Distinction" designation. 

What are the benefits / advantages of doing an Honours degree?
  • If you are planning on taking primarily courses in your department, you might as well get acknowledged for it.
  • The opportunity to do a self-directed research project is a great experience. I highly recommend people to consider doing either a thesis or a directed study for Majors. 
  • Some universities only allow those that graduate from Honours programs do direct-entry into a PhD program. However, some universities also allow students to enter a Master's program and transition into a PhD program after one year.
What are the challenges / disadvantages of doing an Honours degree?
  • You need to take more courses (which will make your entire degree cost more) and unless you plan it carefully (ie. take more than 30 credits a year) or have AP/IB credits beforehand, it might take you more than 4 years of course work. 
  • You MUST take a full course load every year except your last year. 30 credits per academic session (September - April) while is do-able, it is something to consider.
  • Less flexibility when choosing courses since there are more required courses. If you are considering a minor, this will make it more difficult so plan very carefully. 

MICB 401

MICB 401 (with Dr. Wade Bingle)
  • Course Taken: Tuesday 12:30-2pm lecture, Wednesday 1-5pm lab
  • Format: A typical lab course where you follow the directions in the lab manual. Make sure you have half an hour to go into the lab the day before and after your lab period to set up bacteria cultures/ wrap up an experiment (or have a really good friend). This course mainly puts what we learnt in MICB 201 into practice.
  • Grading Scheme: 20% hand-in various projects in lab (ie. slants, plates), 30% written assignments/ calculations, 35-40% final exam (during exam period), 10-15% lab performance
  • Textbook: MICB 401 Lab Manual (available in September, ~$20)
  • Class Average: 81%
  • Personal Experience: This is not a difficult course, but it does get confusing since you are juggling 4-5 different projects at the same time. The most difficult part is the final exam since you are expected to remember what you learnt in MICB 201 and apply it to the experiments we did. For example, for this type of media we used to grow bacteria, what could be the TEA/energy source/ C source etc. At the beginning of the course, you will also be asked to buy a lemon sole fish to cultivate luminous bacteria. The fish is relatively expensive ($15/fish), so it is advisable to buy the fish in groups 2-4. For the most part, the lab typically does not take 4 hours to finish. Most people tend to leave after 2 hours except for one lab day when you are extracting DNA via phenol chlorofoam. Compared to the other MICB labs, this is probably the easiest in terms of work load especially compared to MICB 447/421. 

Friday, 15 April 2016

MICB 448/449

MICB 448/449 (Directed Studies/ Honours Thesis)

Course Taken: September 2015 - April 2016
Class Average for MICB 449: 95% (Note: there were only 5 students taking the course)
Format: Self-directed project (10 - 15 hours per week) that takes place in your supervisor's lab for one or two terms. At the end of the project, you are expected to write a 10-15 page thesis and present on your project. There is no difference between Directed Studies and Honours Thesis except perhaps the length of the "course". 


  • Contact eligible faculty members and discuss the possibilities of working in the lab of that faculty member. When there is a mutual agreement between the faculty member and the student then the student reports that agreement to the program coordinator and registers for the course
  • Submit a written outline of the proposed research project to the supervisor and the course coordinator.
  • Submit a written progress report to the supervisor and the course coordinator. 
  • Finish lab work and submit a research article that analyses the project and the results to the supervisor and the course coordinator. 
  • Defend the project and the report in a formal oral exam attended by the faculty supervisor and another faculty member.

Personal Experience/ Advice: If you want to work with a faculty member not in MICB, you will need to ask a MICB faculty member to be your co-supervisor. You may also need to justify how your project fits with microbiology & immunology. When choosing a project and a question, it is safer to choose an open-ended question rather than a "yes or no" question in case your project does not go as planned. A lot of students begin working in their prospective lab the summer before their official directed studies/ thesis starts to learn the techniques used in the lab, so that they can start their project right away in September. The biggest challenge with undertaking a self-directed project is staying motivated or at least motivated enough to optimize the assays required for your experiments. Remember to celebrate the small victories and ask other lab members for help!!

Grading Rubric

MICB 406

MICB 406 (with Dr. Francois Jean, Dr. Marc Horwitz)
  • Course Taken: T/Th 11-12:30pm (January 2016 - April 2016)
  • Format: Dr. Jean lectures half the term, then Dr. Horwitz lectures the end. The goal of this course is to write a paper about viruses in the style of PLoS Pathogens PEARLS ( for each professor. For Dr. Jean, the theme was "emerging and re-emerging viruses" while Dr. Horwitz did not have a theme. Dr. Jean's section asks students to present their proposed topic, but Dr. Horwtiz will lecture on a general topic (ie. vaccines) and ask students in groups to prepare short 10 minute presentations on a specific aspect of that topic (ie. subunit vaccines).
  • Grading Scheme: Dr. Jean's section (5% abstract, 15% presentation, 5% participation, 25% paper), Dr. Horwitz's section (5% abstract, 5% outline, 25% paper, 15% participation)
  • Textbooknone
  • Class Average: 89%
  • Personal Experience: This course may seem a lot of work at the beginning as you narrow down a topic, but it gets easier once you establish 4-5 questions you will address in your paper. The difficulty of the course depends on how hard you want to try and what topic you choose to write about (ie. papers about HIV will typically be easier given the amount of literature already published compared to Zika virus in 2016). Overall, if you do not mind writing two papers (1500 words and 3000 words) over the course of the entire term, this course is quite relaxed. MICB 406 is primarily a course that encourages self-learning. If you are not interested in learning about viruses by reading papers, you should probably consider MICB 407 (term 1) which has more lectures and focuses on clinical implications of virus infections. 

Saturday, 30 January 2016

MICB 306

MICB 306 (with Dr. Danielle Krebs, Dr. Francois Jean)
  • Course Taken: MWF 12-1pm (September 2015 - December 2015)
  • Format: Dr. Krebs lectures half the term, then Dr. Jean lectures the end. Dr. Krebs' section primarily focuses on general life cycles of viruses using certain viruses as case studies. Dr. Jean talks specifically about three viruses (Hep C virus, Dengue virus, Ebola virus) and goes into depth about how they hijack the host and what treatments are available.  
  • Grading Scheme: 2 Midterms (20%, 25%), Final (45%), Online quizzes (10%)
  • TextbookVirology: Principles and Applications (J. Carter and V. Saunders), 2nd edition
  • Class Average: 81% 
  • Personal ExperienceA very straight forward course with a decent amount of memorization, but nothing outrageous. The weekly online quizzes are easy, and mainly try to keep the students caught up with the material. It is essentially an extension of what was covered in MICB 202. The midterms and final are also extremely fair. Great course if you are interested in viruses. While Dr. Krebs is not as strong lecturer as Dr. Kion, she is able to still communicate the material effectively. Dr. Jean is much more knowledgable about viruses; however, his notes are very difficult to follow. Most likely, you will need to make your own notes. This is a required pre-req for MICB 406/407 (virology seminar courses).