Passion comes to life at UBCO
January 26, 2017
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
PhD (in progress)
BSc Honours, UBC’s Okanagan Campus (2013)
“I feel very fortunate to live out my passion at UBC, working on leading-edge research and possibly filling in missing gaps.”
YOU NEVER KNOW UNLESS YOU ASK. That’s the motto doctoral student Candice Quin lives by. In her UBC experience, searching for unknowns has opened doors to new opportunities and advanced her academic career beyond what she thought was possible.
During her undergraduate studies, Quin became interested in the field of neuroscience. As an upper-level Bachelor of Science Honours student, it occurred to her that in order to pursue her research interests further, she would have to think outside the proverbial box.
“I realized there wasn’t a faculty member on campus whose research area matched what I wanted to study,” Quin says. “Instead of changing my research focus, I started looking for researchers around the world. A couple surfaced in Australia.
“That’s when I thought about Go Global—a program that lets students venture out into the world to meet people, build skills and gain perspective.”
Quin proposed completing her Honours abroad, and then struck an agreement with her Go Global representative: that if she could find a supervisor and get the office set up with a partner university, she could indeed pursue the option.
Eight months of correspondence later, Quin met all the requirements. The outcome of her perseverance resulted in a customized Go Global experience, a first for a UBC Okanagan student. On top of that, the Choquette Family Foundation awarded her a substantial scholarship.
Quins says she enjoyed Australia, the research opportunities and discipline: “I knew that if I worked hard, I would develop the fundamental skills needed for graduate school.”
Highlights Down Under included scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, learning how to surf, canyoning down waterfalls, and getting her work published in a top scientific journal, Nature Communications.
After this rare accomplishment for an undergrad student, Quin was offered a PhD position to continue her studies at the University of Sydney.
Meanwhile at home, a baby was on the way in the Quin Family. Her sister asked, “Should I be taking Omega-3 while pregnant?”
Quin recalled an immunology course with Associate Professor of Biology Deanna Gibson. In a lecture, she learned about Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil and research that looked at both benefits and drawbacks.
“Dr. Gibson’s research showed that taking fish oil might not necessarily be a good thing when combined with polyunsaturated fatty acid,” Quin says. “While most doctors recommend you take fish oil, the research she presented suggested otherwise.
“I told my sister I didn’t have an answer, I didn’t know, but that I would look into the research.”
What Quin found was a lack of relevant literature, especially in terms of the microbiome. She quickly realized she was more interested in immunology than neurology, and changed her field of study.
Today, Quin is one of 10 undergraduate and graduate students working in the Gibson Laboratory at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Under Gibson’s supervision, Quin now researches what she’s truly passionate about: the effects of fish oil on infant immune development and the oil’s effect on the microbiome.
Many practitioners endorse fish oil, especially for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, says Quin, adding that evidence suggests this may not necessarily be the right thing.
“What might be good for chronic immune diseases in an adult, might not be a good thing for a developing immune system in an infant,” she says. “This is what we’re trying to uncover.
“I want all babies and children to be healthy. We want to see benefits for women and their children who are being recommended to take fish oil. And ultimately, we want see if doctors’ recommendations fit what the science supports.”
WORK TO BE DONE
Seeing UBC’s Okanagan campus and facilities grow, Quin feels grateful to come to the campus in Kelowna every day, and to be recognized with award-winning and renowned researchers.
“I feel very fortunate to live out my passion at UBC, working on leading-edge research and possibly filling in missing gaps.
“I thank my sister for inspiring me to search for the unknown, and I’m looking forward to one day reporting back to her with an answer to her question.”
Following her PhD, Quin plans to complete postdoctoral research and become a professor with a research lab of her own.
WOMEN IN SCIENCE
From her undergraduate beginnings in 2014 to the graduate level, Candice Quin has always looked up to Assoc. Prof. Deanna Gibson. The one-on-one mentoring continues, and opportunities to grow as a well-rounded scientist are far from limited.
“I have a fear of public speaking,” Quin says. “I find it absolutely terrifying—but I understand that this is a fear I need to overcome, especially if I want to communicate and share my research. Dr. Gibson finds opportunities for personal growth, which allow me to practice presenting.”
These opportunities to develop into a more confident speaker have propelled Quin to headline a Mini Med conference, win a Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, and keynote at the Interdisciplinary Health Conference. She’s also travelled to South Africa to present at the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) conference.
“I have learned everything from Dr. Gibson,” Quin says. “I still remember how captivated I was an undergraduate student in her class. Her immunology course resonates to this day as my favourite. In fact, it was the only course in my undergraduate studies where I felt like I learned the material, as opposed to memorizing it. Albeit the hardest class, it’s definitely the one I took the most away from.”
Taking what she’s learned, Quin is paying it forward, working on the committee for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE). The program supports the success of young women transitioning from their undergraduate education to a career in science or engineering by organizing events and workshops that provide opportunities to network, and sessions to work on communication and time-management skills.
Quin, who says she see herself in a lot of the WiSE members, adds how proud she is to be involved in the program.
“It’s a support system. I often find myself reiterating the same, but important, message—don’t give up. Just keep trying. If it’s something you genuinely enjoy and want to do, then you can make it work. It might take time, but you’ll get there.”
Story by May Alsukhon
Photos courtesy Candice Quin