Guilherme Durvan António Zandamela is excelling at undergraduate research
January 16, 2023
Guilherme Durvan António Zandamela
Donald A. Wehrung International Student Award Scholar
Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science
Biology and Chemistry
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
“I think our campus has lots of engagement opportunities for all students, as well as awesome faculty and mentorship.”
As an undergraduate student, what kind of research do you conduct and what inspired you to head down this path?
I’ve always dreamed of becoming a scientist. By the time I arrived at UBC Okanagan, I knew I was most excited about chemistry and biology, so that’s why I chose to major in biochemistry.
Over the last few years, I’ve been doing research on putative cell wall remodelling enzymes in the lab of Dr. Michael Deyholos. This work incorporates analytical methods I developed in Dr. Wesley Zandberg’s lab, related to the characterization of complex polysaccharides.
What makes this specific research relevant?
Although people commonly associate carbohydrates with energy and nutrition, they have many other biological functions. For instance, if you take a walk outside you’ll see plants with cell walls composed of polysaccharides. Those polysaccharides make a dynamic barrier for interactions between plants, making their study relevant for agriculture, medicine and human physiology.
You’re the recipient of an International Community Achievement Award (ICAA), which recognizes international students who contribute to the UBCO campus and community while maintaining an excellent academic standing. What does it mean to you to be an ICAA recipient?
Winning the ICAA validates and encourages my love of learning. Alongside my great passion for research in biochemistry, I’ve always been intellectually curious, enjoyed learning about various topics and nurtured a great love for music. Receiving the ICAA meant being recognized for the entirety—rather than just a part—of my endeavours. This has emboldened me to continue embracing all of my inclinations as best as I can and allowing them to reinforce each other.
How do you balance school and home life?
I spend a lot of time on my academic work. Because I am drawn to academics, to me balance consists of interspersing my academic work with other things I am also drawn to, while also embracing the idea of taking time to rest. I love to compose music and improvise, so I try to make time for that. When the weather permits, I also like to mountain bike on nearby trails. Occasionally, I enjoy nice food and wine around the city and literature.
Do you have a mentor? If so, how have they influenced you?
Dr. Deyholos first gave me the opportunity to become an undergraduate researcher as soon as I started my studies—before I had any transcripts or experience—based solely on a conversation we had. His mentorship has been life- and career-defining, because in addition to setting me on my desired path, he has remained available and very supportive throughout my degree. Dr. Deyholos also introduced me to Dr. Zandberg, who I worked under for 31 months learning analytical chemistry. Dr. Zandberg heavily influenced my topic of interest—glycoscience—and more broadly reinforced my fascination for biomolecular structural elucidation. It was under his supervision that I wrote my two theses and won the Work Learn International Undergraduate Research Award, among others. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Zandberg has encouraged me to have confidence in my abilities, pursue opportunities and continue with my music.
What do you think makes UBCO great?
I think our campus has lots of engagement and mentorship opportunities for all students, as well as incredible faculty. For instance, I was very fortunate to have the highly dedicated mentorship of Drs. Zandberg and Deyholos, with extensive access to undergraduate research opportunities. This has been the most impactful aspect of my education. I also really like the location and the quiet, pleasant environment of the Okanagan campus. I think getting involved on campus is a great way of nurturing one’s enthusiasm, skills, and wellbeing. It also increases the beauty of our surroundings.
What’s the best advice you have for new undergraduate students?
Be openly enthusiastic about the things you care about and your education, regardless of how that may be perceived.