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Science students have strong showing at Ontario Biology Day

There were a few times this past weekend when biology professor Oliver Love was watching presentations by fourth-year science students at Ontario Biology Day and could have sworn he was listening to graduate students.

“That’s how good they were,” he said. “I’ve never seen better presentations by undergrads.”

About 20 honour students from a dozen labs in five different departments – including biology, biochemistry, computer science and the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research – took part in the event at McMaster University. Intended to celebrate student accomplishments, the meeting also provides a great opportunity for undergraduates to communicate their findings to peers and mentors in a supportive and enthusiastic environment.

“Half of our honours students went, which is phenomenal,” Dr. Love said. “It’s the highest number of students we’ve ever sent.”

UWindsor students presented research that spanned an impressive variety of topics, from molecular biology, ecological and evolutionary systems to mechanisms of cancer proliferation. Sabrina Botsford, a student in Lisa Porter’s lab, took top honours in the health sciences category for her presentation called Relevance of Tuberin/Cyclin B1 interaction in Tuberous Sclerosis.

“It was really nice to be recognized like that when you work that hard on a project,” said Botsford, who has volunteered in Dr. Porter’s lab since first year and has applied for entrance into medical school next year. “That felt really good.”

Botsford developed Tuberin mutants and fluorescent systems that allowed her to study their interaction with a regulatory protein involved with cell division in real-time. TS is a multi-organ disorder characterized by the formation of benign tumours called hamartomas.

Biology department head Andrew Hubberstey said events like Ontario Biology Day are a great opportunity for students to gain experience they need for clearly communicating their research, a critical asset to have, especially if they plan on going to graduate school.

Mehwish Kamal, who conducts research in the field of neuroscience, said it was the first time she attended such a meeting and said she learned a great deal of tips on how to improve her presentation skills just from observing other students.

“It was a very good experience,” she said, “and it was a great opportunity to meet other undergraduate researchers who are doing similar work in my field.”

“It was wonderful to see the diversity of departments and subject matter that was represented by our students,” said science dean Marlys Koschinsky, who added that having such a good showing there sends a strong, positive message to students from other schools who may be considering pursuing graduate studies here.

Love also expressed his gratitude to Janice Tubman and Mohammed Bourouh, two graduate students who traveled along with the group and helped keep them organized, as well as Barb Zimmerman, the biology department’s undergraduate secretary who provided the group with a great deal of emotional and organizational support.