Ecological Models and Data at Bamfield By Michelle Gordy

“A unique experience” is probably the best way to describe, likely any course at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center (BMSC), but most definitely the Ecological Models and Data course. Set in the small marine village of Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, BC, the BMSC provides a temporary home to researchers and students from all over Canada and beyond. Nestled behind the Broken Islands within Barkley Sound, the BMSC sits between epic forests and the Pacific Ocean. The campus offers outstanding views, all from the comfort of “The Rix” (Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries) and the library, where we spent about 85% of our time, because this was a computer-based course. We did get the chance to visit some of the amazingly beautiful beaches, hike a bit of the West Coast Trail, and play around in the intertidal zone to see the plethora of marine life surrounding us. Beyond the scenery, this course uniquely offered an intensive three weeks of mathematical modelling, computer programming, ethical discussions on p-values and scientific philosophies, random row boat trips to get ice cream, late nights at the library, and random bouts of sleep-deprived laughter.

The view from The Rix

(Photo credit: Jody Reimer)

The view from the library

Trips to the beach for paper discussions

(Photo credit: Jody Reimer)

The intensity of the course not only created an atmosphere of bonding between the students, but an opportunity to learn through teaching, something I was not expecting. What I mean by this, is that there was a wide variety of backgrounds among the students, ranging from undergraduate students who have never used R to PhD students that use R every day, or are in the math department and learning how to use ecological models. When we would work on our labs together, we would all, at some point during the course (usually late at night in the Rix or the library), would take what we knew and teach it to our fellow classmates, so we would all successfully complete the labs on time. The learning curve associated with this course was high, and the instructors knew it; they were outstanding at being there (some even during the night) to help us through, and guide us. Though the workload was high, and the timeframe short, I believe that being at the BMSC and being away from the business of home helped to provide the best learning atmosphere. The collective knowledge of the instructors and the TA were impressive, and they all presented an incredible ability to teach and relate abstract concepts to real world problems.

This course benefits my professional development in more ways than I expected. I had originally thought it would be a great way to finally learn how to use R, the most widely used computer program for ecologists, and this would be the greatest benefit for my future career. While, yes, I did definitely learn how to use R, I also learned a great deal about statistics, about ethics in publishing, about how learning isn’t always best done by someone telling you exactly how to do something, but rather helping someone to figure it out on their own, and that hard work really pays off. I learned a great deal about getting out of my “comfort zone”, and dealing with complex problems in a short timeframe. I have no doubts that these lessons have impacted the way in which I view a career in science/research, and that they will improve my chances at success in both my current PhD research, and in my future career as well. Having a greater understanding of best practices in ecological research and modelling has already changed the way in which I am considering the analyses I will be using on the data I have collected, and how I communicate that to other students in the lab.

The best quote to summarize the Ecological Models and Data course came from our first lecture. It was “See the ecological forest through the statistical trees. Because if you don’t… there be dragons!!”. This quote not only made it to the back of our class t-shirts, but serves as a reminder that statistics can often be misleading, and we can often use them wrongly. It is important to have a strong understanding of the statistics and models you’re using, because you could be missing what’s really going on, or misinterpreting the true patterns.

The dragon part comes in because every time we learned about “the wrong way to do things”, ‘Hurlbert’ the dragon would appear.

          

My only advice to other students interested in taking this course would be to come into it knowing that the intensity is worth the payoff.

I’d like to express my sincere thanks to HPI and the University of Alberta for helping to fund this opportunity through professional development awards.

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WorldLeish in the historic city of Toledo by Camila Meira

My journey in leishmaniasis research started a while ago, when I still was an undergrad student starting the first internship in a prestigious research institution in Brazil. At that moment, I felt so excited about the work with a fascinating and intriguing parasite that I could not wait for a chance to be with those that were carrying out most of the published works I had as reference for my own projects.

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Two weeks ago, I finally had this opportunity at the 6th World Conference on Leishmaniasis (WorldLeish) and I cannot stop saying: it was worth every second! The WorldLeish Conferences are held every four years in countries where leishmaniasis is one of the major health issues. This year, the conference was in Toledo, Spain, and brought together almost 1500 leishmaniacs from all over the world to present and attend oral or poster sessions on numerous topics on leishmaniasis, ranging from taxonomy and molecular studies on Leishmania spp. to advances in treatment and diagnostic tools for both anthroponotic and zoonotic diseases. I was scheduled to present in the first poster session, when everybody is clearly eager to discuss and share valuable ideas on your research topic hahaha. As a young scientist that started a MSc project on an innovative and challenging topic, which is the interaction between Leishmania and its host cell via exosomes, I was really looking forward for this moment, surrounded by experts in this field. I was surprised in seeing how the research on exosomes have expanded so quickly and how many good concepts and models are coming up from it. It was easy and enjoyable to get myself engaged in endless conversations with other grad students on personal experiences and novel ideas that we could develop together in collaborative projects. The WorldLeish was also an excellent chance to meet my Brazilian fellows from Oswaldo Cruz Foundation-Bahia. It was more than a pleasure to see again these friends of mine that were back there helping me out in the lab when I was giving my very first steps towards this moment of my life.

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The WorldLeish was a fantastic experience that I had the opportunity to share with my supervisor, the famous Lash, “the flash”, and his wife, Rani, who were also attending it. Believe it or not, I never saw Lash so excited about meeting a bunch of old friends before this conference hahaha! Regarding the city, there is no doubt that the organizers could not have chosen any better place than Toledo. This city is spectacular! A peaceful and historical countryside was all I was asking for after a busy term. I truly miss the amazing view from the terrace of the Congress Center El Greco, where we had our daily Spanish meals outdoors, admiring the landscape. I will definitely come back one day and get lost in the narrow streets of this charming city!

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To sum up, I could not be more grateful for participating in the 6th WorldLeish! I learned so much during these five days of conference that now I feel more confident to move forward, incorporating new and exciting concepts in my project. I am very thankful to Lash and HPI for making this possible!