I was born/grew up in: Vankleek Hill, Ontario
I now live in: Ottawa, Ontario
I completed my training/education at:
BSc Biology (Honours) – Minor in Mathematics, Carleton University (2018)
MSc Biology – Specialization in Data Science (Fast-tracked to PhD), Carleton University (2018-2019)
The Helsinki Summer School on Mathematical Ecology and Evolution, Helsinki University (2022)
PhD Biology, Carleton University (2020 – Present)
What I do at work
My research does not happen with experiments in a lab. It all takes place with pen, paper, and supercomputers! I look at how evolution occurs over very long periods of time, especially in periods of uncertainty. For example, will climate change result in mass extinctions? What will be the features of those organisms that do survive such an event?
In my most recent research, I’m looking at how animals’ behavior might change if their environment changes. For example, “what is the best possible searching pattern for an organism to use, when it has no idea where anything is located?” I use a special technique from computational intelligence called “Evolutionary Algorithms”. This process uses what we know about evolution (e.g., mutation and natural selection) to solve computationally complex problems.
A typical day could start with a meeting where we might discuss new results and how best to communicate those results. Or, we might write equations and code, or come up with new research ideas. Afterwards, I might spend a few hours on a Linux-based computer where I write code & prepare simulations. Later, I pass this code on to supercomputers (including Canada’s most powerful supercomputers, Narval and Niagara). A few hours will also be dedicated to scientific writing, which can include mathematical proofs. I have also taught courses at Carleton University, so some days are spent preparing lecture material, grading, and meeting with students.
I use a combination of computer languages to carry out my research. These include Bash, Python, C++, and R. , I also use a document formatting program called LaTeX to write scientific papers. LaTeX is a special word processing program that has special features designed for the production of technical and scientific documents. An example of my research can be found on PLOS Computational Biology (Here: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009490).
My career path is
My father worked in airline cargo. My mother was an immigrant who worked as a waitress. No one in our family completed an education beyond high school. I did not expect to be a scientist when I was growing up! The only real plans I had were to join the military and see where that adventure would take me. However, I slowly grew to love science and music in high school. By Grade 12 I decided that a degree in science at Carleton University was the way to go. I didn’t complete grade 12 math and only scraped by grade 11 math. As a result, I chose biology because it did not require math.
During my undergraduate degree, I switched my program from Arts & Biology to Biology. Then I switched to Physics. Then I switched to Math and then to Computer Mathematics. Finally, I came back to Biology. I also took some time off from university so in total it took me 8 years to complete my BSc.
After I graduated, I applied to the Royal Canadian Air Force. I was offered a position as an ACSO (Air Combat Systems Officer). However, I realized I wanted to learn more beyond my bachelor’s degree. I decided to stick with university and went on to complete a master’s degree. Now I am working on my PhD. I think the two biggest influences on my decisions were an advanced math course and a course on evolutionary ecology. In these courses I met the professors who are the current supervisors of my PhD. Their enthusiasm for science is ultimately what led me to pursue a PhD program. It’s funny that for someone who didn’t like or do well in math in high school, math plays a huge part in my work today!
I am motivated by
There is a substantial satisfaction from meeting with like-minded individuals who are equally excited to tackle the same research questions. We take months, sometimes years, wearing down that question until we finally discover a solution. We spend a great deal of effort communicating that discovery, making sure the public understands our discovery as clearly as we do. Then … we repeat!
How I affect peoples’ lives
Science increases our understanding, and knowledge is our most powerful tool. My research has the potential to discover fundamental properties of evolution. These may also have applications outside of biology, such as increasing the efficiency of some computer applications.
I have also used my skills in mathematics and statistics to create models which ensure fair representation and equity for people in STEM careers.
Outside of work I
Weightlifting (I love weighted dips), bouldering, gaming (primarily RPGs), watch repair, and mushroom picking are some of my favorite activities outside of work. I also volunteer my time helping CUASA, tutoring, mentoring, and speaking with students about science. Here’s a short video of me bouldering.
My advice to others
Just keep trying until you find something that sticks. If that something is meaningful to you, then pursue it as far as you can.
- Literature and language arts
- Enjoyed doing things on my own
- Liked helping people
- Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
- Played video games
- Engaged in volunteer activities
- Was really creative
- Never wanted to be in the classroom
- Always knew exactly what I wanted to do
- Liked to take things apart to see how they worked
- Didn't really care about grades