David’s high school had prepared him well for his first year at university; it was once he was in his second year that he had a wake-up call. Suddenly, all the class material was new, and he had to learn all of it. He worked hard, but he wasn’t able to maintain the grades he achieved relatively easily in first year. He began to question his direction, and at times, his ability.
His third year courses were geared towards genetics – the subject that was so dear to him in high school, and he discovered the Genetics Honours Co-op program. In his Co-op experiences, he was able to go out into the work environment, find out what it was really like to work in a research environment and find out whether it was a good fit for him.
In his third year he wanted to take the course Genes and Development, and since he didn’t have the prerequisite, he had to get special permission to take the course from the course instructor, Dr. Gunnar Valdimarsson. Dr. Valdimarsson let David into the course, but he cautioned him that the course would be difficult given David’s lack of course and practical lab experience. David, however, was determined and signed up for the course.
David worked hard, but he was struggling, and when the first set of marks came in, his results were disappointing. He went to see his professor for help, and much to David’s surprise, Dr. Valdimarsson went through the test with him, question by question, helping David understand how each answer could be improved and how he could do better next time.
He spent a good deal of time that term with Dr. Valdimarsson, and managed to get top grades in the course. By this time, David understood the value of the experience, the understanding of the scientific method and the critical thinking skills that he needed to develop. He also knew that we wanted to pursue his degree in Genetics.
To get the experience he needed, he volunteered for the summer in Dr. Valdimarsson’s lab. He got to know the grad students, he developed the skills he needed and had “the best summer of my life.”
David says, “I was really happy. I was learning something new every day, and I was now applying what I was learning.”
It also gave David a head start on his 4th year project course. He learned that there were three essential qualities that a researcher needs: persistence, enthusiasm, and the ability to withstand disappointment when research doesn’t go as planned.
David describes his project course as “the culmination of everything I had learned in my degree.”
David graduated with his B.Sc. Honours Co-op degree in Genetics in February 2009, and currently works in the Department of HIV and Human Genetics at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. During his co-op work terms, David participated in the study of genes associated with HIV-1 resistance found in a group of sex workers in Kenya. Currently, he is part of the team that is studying a candidate HIV-1 vaccine.
David’s volunteer work did not end with his lab work in university. David has been an active participant in Let’s Talk Science (a national, charitable science outreach organization), and has served as the University of Manitoba coordinator for the past two years. In 2010, David received the National Site Coordinator award for the work he has done in bringing Science awareness to young people in the community, and in particular for creating partnerships that will hopefully bring the love of science to at-risk children from the inner city.