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Student Award Testimonials - 2012/2013

There are many remarkable students engaged in research at VIU. Here are a few of the many students who have been awarded research grants, scholarships and awards from VIU and other granting agencies.


Tri-Council Federal Granting Agencies and Internal VIU Student Research Award Recipients
Tri-Council Research Awards
VIU Research Awards




Nathan Stefani – 2012 NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA)

Graduating Class of 2013
VIU - Bachelor of Science, Major in Biology 

With the desire to experience scientific research firsthand, Nathan applied for the "NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA)." His goal was to explore the change in gene expression that arises in tissues of shellfish that are stressed out by temperature or bacterial infection. As a third-year bachelor of science student, Nathan began to work hard to prepare a cover letter and met with his supervisor beforehand to gain a better understanding of what he was about to embark on. "I had a fairly good picture of what the project entailed and then I jumped right in.

It is neat to see how ideas of experiments actually materialize into the real thing and now I have contributed to the large body of science here at VIU." Furthermore, Nathan is deeply grateful for the expert supervisors he worked with, as they did not hesitate to teach him everything they could about the research at hand and beyond.

Winning this USRA has given Nathan the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment and advanced techniques that wouldn't normally be found in an undergrad science lab. Beyond the immediate benefit to his science degree, this exposure is of real value for his intended career in medicine. While growing up, Nathan was always drawn to genetics, the blueprint of all living things. "I have always been interested in science and research, and to be able to come and do what I love for a whole summer, I got a distinct appreciation for what this science thing is all about." Nathan expresses, that what made this experience even more amazing is the fact that he got to work with distinguished researchers. Researchers such as Dr. Helen Gurney-Smith and Dr. Cathy Thomson, as well as a fantastic colleague, Angeline de Bruyns, with whom there was never a dull moment. Nathan compares the help and attention he received to having his own personal tutor, as the staff took time to become familiar with his strengths and weaknesses and thus were able to support him and his goals. Forever grateful, Nathan remarks on how his perspective of science has shifted from an innocent student's point of view to that of a researcher who understands a little more of what goes on behind the scenes. "I have gained a new appreciation for what science means and a whole new respect for those who dedicate their life to the toils and rewards of this field. I now realize that textbooks and theories are just the beginning. Science is more than just a body of knowledge. It is a dynamic world that I am privileged to be part of." 



Phillip Morrison - 2012 NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship - Master’s Award (PGS-M)

Graduating Class of 2011
VIU – Bachelor of Science, Major in Biology 


After completing a degree in Biology in 2011, Phillip applied for a “NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship-Master’s Award.” With much delight, he was granted an award in the 2012 competition to investigate the “respiratory adaptations associated with regional heterothermy in sharks” at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He is currently exploring how temperatures and pH can affect the oxygen-affinity of haemoglobin in sharks and tuna, as there is little known about their breathing structure or how they cope with continuous thermal stress. Phillip has always been interested in the biology and ecology of elasmobranchs

(cartilaginous fish), but particularly in the physiology of sharks. He further developed his interests in the Biology program at VIU while completing an undergraduate research project in Biology 491, where he assessed the effects of “surgically implanted acoustic transmitters on the swimming performance of juvenile Coho salmon in seawater.” This was an important study, as studies like this have been done; however, this is the first time the seawater exposure of juvenile salmonids with recently surgically-implanted acoustic transmitters has been assessed. During this study, Phillip was introduced to his current supervisor, Professor Colin Brauner (UBC).

Phillip intends to “pursue a career in academia in the field of comparative physiology; thus, the experience gained while at VIU is very important to current educational and future career goals.” He has had great experiences with both his past and current supervisors, which makes him excited to collaborate with other scientists and graduate students. Phillip suggests, when applying for a “NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship-Master’s Award,” a successful applicant must be able to develop a scientifically valid question that sparks interest. Additionally, “read widely in topics that interest you and see what the authors of peer-reviewed articles suggest needs to be further researched. Develop a simple question and expand on it. Think broadly and draw on knowledge from all aspects of your chosen degree program.”




Sonya Skeeles - 2012 CIHR Health Professional Student Research Award

Graduating Class of 2012
VIU – Bachelor of Science in Nursing


Wanting to gain an understanding of the experiences of young adults living with type one diabetes as they move from the childhood (pediatric) health care system to adult health care, Sonya started researching this issue in one of her classes. Her desire to explore this subject was based on knowing that many young adults living with Type One Diabetes do not follow up with their health care needs once leaving the closely monitored pediatric system. At the age of eighteen they enter the adult health care system where there is a need for them to become more self- reliant. For some, taking care of their personal health gets neglected as stresses of school, work, and living on their own take priority. This can result in uncontrolled blood sugar levels, which lead to a vast amount of other complex health concerns, including kidney and heart issues. Therefore, Sonya began to work closely with her nursing instructor, Dr. Ann Holroyd and soon realized she was in the perfect position to apply for the "CIHR Health Professional Student Research Award.”

When applying, Sonya suggests being thorough, clear and rational in order to make a strong point. You must have a strong question that grabs the reader's interest and then just go for it.

Additionally, it is helpful to have a good understanding of how the research process works and if the research being done will eventually lead to a positive change with the issue at hand. It is all about "taking the bigger puzzle and breaking it down into a smaller working area because the bigger puzzle can only come together when the small pieces are put together." This research can help society as a whole and can also be taken down to the individual level and vice-versa. Working closely with Dr. Ann Holroyd and the Canadian Diabetes Association throughout her research, gave Sonya the confidence to carry on with research in the future. Now graduated and working for Vancouver Island Health Authority, Sonya plans to carry on her research as she truly sees that in order to better support this population, there is a need to understand the challenges and diverse needs of those transitioning from childhood diabetic to adult diabetic care.





Shannon Bence – 2012 SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship - Master's Award

Graduating Class of 2013
VIU – Master's of Arts in Sustainable Leisure Management

In her final year of the Tourism Management program at VIU, Shannon was preparing herself for the transition into grad school when she decided to apply for the" SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship." With the help of her professors and completing various research assistant work-op positions, she gained the confidence to develop her application. While in her 3rd year of VIU’s Tourism Management degree program, Shannon took a Rural Development course that explored the complexities that make up a rural community.

Shannon became extremely interested in the subject area and thus decided to examine the perspectives of young adults on existing retention strategies that are available in Western Canada for her thesis research.

When preparing her application for the "SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship," Shannon utilized her support systems consisting of her classmates, professors and the VIU SSHRC Scholarship Selection Committee, which helped her to develop a strong research proposal. She suggests, leaving yourself lots of time so you can meet and brainstorm ideas with your professors and other experts involved in your area of research. "Completing the application was the hardest thing I worked for. This was by far the highest goal I had ever set for myself, but after gaining confidence and unconditional support from my professors, I realized that I had to apply the skills which I developed throughout my undergraduate degree program and my numerous work-op experiences. It was scary trusting myself that I actually had the skills to complete this application. However, it was a great feeling to have the support from my professors and classmates who were constantly building my confidence, throughout the whole process. Preparing this application and receiving this award has changed my life!"

Conclusively, the experience has helped her advance her research skill set and to establish a direction for her thesis research she will be conducting while in VIU’s Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure Management program. Shannon is grateful for all the help and support she received throughout the process and will continue to work hard to make her thesis research a success.  "This experience showed me that if you put your mind to something, you can totally achieve it. Just remember that if people are investing time into helping you out, you want to give them a good return on their investment, so work hard to complete the process and don’t forget to say please and thank-you along the way."



Anne Ellison - 2012 Student Travel and Conference Fund and the Jessica Wilde Conference Participation Fund

Graduating Class of 2012
VIU – Bachelor of Science, Major in Biology 


With a desire to investigate the intelligence of turkey vultures, Anne, a 4th year biology student decided to undertake a research project that would test the cleverness of the bird by using a string-pulling approach. The results showed that Turkey Vultures are capable of high cognitive function, thus her biology advisor, Eric Demers, suggested that she summit her research and attend the North American Ornithological Conference in Vancouver, B.C. Anne took her advisor’s advice and applied for funding.

With all her hard work, she was awarded money for the “Student Travel and Conference Fund and the Jessica Wilde Conference Participation Fund” and given the opportunity to present her research to biologists, faculty, and students within her field. “It is hard to describe what it feels like to be sitting in a theatre with 1,500 other people who share your own passions and research interests.”

Although nerve-wracking, Anne says the experience was priceless and it has helped her to feel confident about presenting her work to others. When applying for funding, she suggests to work with your professors closely and let them give you advice because they have probably applied for funding themselves and they will know what details are important to include in an application. Additionally, one should also prepare their application well in advance, so there is time to make recommended changes. Overall, this opportunity has allowed Anne to surround herself with many professionals that have dedicated their lives to the work she loves and is pursuing. An added benefit is that after attending the conference, she became extremely motivated to tackle her graduate work. Through this experience, Anne knows that she will attend more conferences in the future with great confidence and a new understanding. However, presenting as a student from VIU is an incomparable practice, "You get to spend an intense few days learning about new research and techniques, generating ideas, networking and meeting new people. You never know who you are going to meet and where those connections will end up."