APBI 499 - Q&A With Past Students

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Brynn McLellan | The efficacy of motion-activated sprinklers for deterring urban coyotes (Canis latrans) from residential areas in metro Vancouver, BC.

BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2019

Brynn McLellan, BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2019

Why did you choose to do a thesis?

My supervisor approached me in third-year with the opportunity to work on a human-coyote conflict project in partnership with the Stanley Park Ecology Society. I jumped at the opportunity to work on this project as it combined my interests in human-wildlife conflict, citizen science and animal welfare. At this point I was also starting to think about future graduate studies and completing a thesis allowed me to determine if graduate work in wildlife conservation and management was something I would like to pursue.

Which classes most prepared you for a thesis?

Several courses in the APBI program prepared me for completing a thesis. Notably, Research Methods in Applied Biology provided foundational research skills such as research design, proposal and literature review writing and oral presentation skills. In this course students also get the opportunity to assist a graduate student with their research, which was my first taste of conducting applied research in wildlife conservation. Other courses include Applied Animal Behaviour that provided valuable scientific critique and research method skills and Land, Food and Community: Quantitative Data Analysis that provided an introduction to data analysis and the use of R.

Did you get to present your findings?

I got to present my initial findings at the UBC MURC (Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference).

What was your primary research objective?

Our project tested the efficacy of motion-activated sprinklers as a humane deterrent to reduce the presence of coyotes in residential areas to improve human-coyote coexistence. This project was completed in collaboration with the Stanley Park Ecology Society Co-Existing with Coyotes Project.

How will the skills you acquired through this course complement your future academic and/or career goals?

One of the most valuable aspects of completing an undergraduate thesis with the APBI program is the small faculty where students and faculty members work collaboratively and support each other. Having exposure to a variety of research projects and support from graduate students provided insight into graduate studies and future career options. I was also fortunate that my thesis supervisor acted as a mentor throughout my degree and has been instrumental in helping me navigate the academic world as I start my MSc.

Lexis Ly | Emotional Response to Farm Animal Management Practices


BSc. Applied Animal Biology, Expected Graduation 2020

Why did you choose to do a thesis?

Lexis Ly, BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2020

I chose to do a thesis because I wanted to take my research skills to the next level during my undergraduate degree. A thesis provides you with opportunities for independent learning well beyond what’s normally expected of an undergrad. I was also very inspired by many grad students in the Animal Welfare Program, who encouraged me to pursue more independent research projects.

Which classes most prepared you for a thesis?

APBI 398 (Research Methods in Applied Biology) absolutely prepared me the most for my thesis. In this class, everyone is required to find a “mentor” (e.g. a grad student or professor) in a field of their interest and basically help them out with their research project. Although it sounds daunting, I promise the class is a relatively small cohort, it is really fun, and the professors are really supportive of your research journey. After taking this class I realized I enjoyed research so much that I went on to do a directed study (APBI 497) and then my thesis!

What was your primary research objective?

My study looked at human empathy toward farm animals in pain. I used human facial expression to measure emotional response when participants were asked to watch videos of cows and pigs undergoing common farm management procedures (e.g. disbudding, castration, branding). I found that participants did indeed show higher levels of negative facial expressions when watching videos of animals in pain when compared to control videos. I know this may sound odd, as it isn’t a study that is directly related to animals, but this just goes to show that animal-related research can really be anything you want. My research opened me up to the human side of the human-animal relationship, which I am hoping to further pursue in my education and career.

How will the skills you acquired through this course complement your future academic and/or career goals?

Perhaps I may be an odd case, but the study I did for my thesis made me fall in love with research so much that I decided to pursue a Masters in Animal Welfare. My thesis really confirmed to me that I enjoy studying the human-animal relationship, and the research I did helped me gain skills in data collection, analysis, writing and independent work. I am hoping that my research skills will ultimately land me a career that explores ways to help animals and humans in our fast-changing world!

Taryn Scarff | Transient Killer Whale Distribution and Abundance in the Salish Sea in 2017 and 2018

BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2020

Taryn Scarff, BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2020

Why did you choose to do a thesis?

I chose to do a thesis because I wanted more research experience before graduating. I had taken classes which gave me some basic research experience and led me to decide that I may want to pursue a career in research. I also believed that a thesis would create connections with other UBC researchers which would be beneficial after graduation.

Which classes most prepared you for a thesis?

APBI 398, Research Methods in Applied Biology, provided me with the most research experience and prepared me the best for a thesis. In APBI 398 I worked with a mentor on her research project and this mentorship allowed me to meet and connect with my thesis supervisor. I learned statistical analysis skills through my mentorship in this class and I also improved my scientific writing skills through the class itself. Another course I took which prepared me for my thesis was APBI 415, Applied Animal Behaviour. In this course I conducted a small research project, presented my findings and wrote a scientific paper on the research project, all of which were extremely beneficial skills in my thesis.

What was is like "defending" your thesis?

Defending my thesis was a fun experience. Unfortunately, since I had to defend my thesis during COVID, everything was online and the defence was only for my two supervisors. It's rewarding to be able to share your project with your supervisor and peers after all of the work you've put into it.

What was your primary research objective?

For my thesis my primary research objective was to determine the abundance and distribution of transient killer whales in the inside waters of Vancouver Island in 2017 and 2018.

How will the skills you acquired through this course complement your future academic and/or career goals?

The skills I gained by doing a thesis are extremely valuable as in September 2020, I will be starting a Master of Science in Zoology at UBC's Marine Mammal Research Unit, continuing the project I did my undergraduate thesis on. By doing an undergraduate thesis in LFS I was introduced to my now master's supervisor and had research experience which elevated my resume and improved my chances at getting into the masters program at UBC.

Hannah Spitzer | Identifying Significant Sources of Noise and Their Effects on the Behaviour and Welfare of Cats in an Animal Shelter


BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2020

Why did you choose to do a thesis?

Hannah Spitzer, BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2020

I chose to do a thesis because I had been lucky enough to work with some graduate students in the AWP on their research projects, and as a result, I discovered I was very interested in animal welfare research and desired to pursue further education and a career. Both Chris (McGill) and several professors, including Nina and David, encouraged me to complete a thesis as the next step to help me achieve my goals, as completing an undergraduate thesis would help to expand my experience as well as serve me favourably for graduate school applications.

Which classes most prepared you for a thesis?

APBI 398 was the most helpful, as it provided me with a solid introduction to research, practice with many different aspects of completing a research project, and connections to graduate students for future opportunities. APBI 415 also provided a good experience completing my own 'practice' research project.

What was is like "defending" your thesis?

My thesis ' defence' was a wonderful opportunity to give a presentation without the normal time constraints that exist in a classroom setting, and it was also a good way to experience presenting to a slightly expanded audience without being overly intimidating.

What was your primary research objective?

My research was a qualitative study involving in-depth exploration of cats' behaviour during different time periods at an animal shelter. My personal goals were to continue to develop my own writing, analysis, and presenting skills as well as gain hands-on data collection experience, as this was a skill I was lacking.

How will the skills you acquired through this course complement your future academic and/or career goals?

My experience with my undergraduate thesis has already been extremely valuable to me, and I'm confident that it will continue to do so. Completing an undergraduate thesis helps open the door to many other research opportunities, as it 'proves' to graduate students, professors, and graduate school admissions that you are competent and capable of completing the necessary work and that you understand what research involves. Since completing my thesis, I have had the opportunity to be involved with many other research projects through the AWP, and I am currently living in Agassiz at the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre working as an NSERC scholar under Dr. Nina von Keyserlingk. I have been accepted to continue my research aspirations at the University of Prince Edward Island, where I will pursue a Master of Science studying the welfare of young dairy calves.\

Kathryn McLellan | The effects of cow size and access to an outdoor open-pack on the expression of estrus behaviours in dairy cattle

BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2019

Kathryn McLellan, BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2019

Why did you choose to do a thesis?

I had gained interest in the field of animal welfare from other undergraduate courses and at the time was working with a PhD student on a dairy cattle welfare project that I was passionate about. The thesis was appealing to me as it was an opportunity to better understand the research process and to determine if it was something I wanted to pursue further, and it allowed me a more flexible and independent learning environment for my final year of undergrad.

Which classes most prepared you for a thesis?

APBI 398 (Research Methods in Applied Biology) was the most useful in preparing me for the thesis by connecting me with graduate students and research projects in my area of interest, as well as providing me with experience in writing a literature review and the communication skills for presenting my work. While I took APBI 415 (Applied Animal Behaviour) after a majority of the thesis was completed, I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in a thesis or directed studies in the area of animal behaviour as you gain skills in conducting a mini (observation based) research project and writing a research report. Other APBI courses (e.g., APBI 413-Stress and Coping) were also important for developing writing and research skills, and courses that provide background on animal welfare sciences (APBI 315 - Animal Welfare and the Ethics of Animal Use).

What was is like "defending" your thesis?

Presenting my thesis work was a great experience and a chance to showcase some of the work being done in the program to my colleagues. I presented to my thesis supervisor, the graduate student I as working alongside, and to a few other students in the program who were also completing an undergraduate thesis. We each did a brief presentation followed by a group discussion.

What was your primary research objective?

I was working on a project investigating outdoor access for dairy cattle with PhD student Anne-Marieke Smid with the UBC Animal Welfare Program. Many lactating dairy cows in North America are not provided with outdoor access, hence, this project was investigating if alternative outdoor areas (i.e., an outdoor open-pack) could be beneficial for dairy cattle welfare and subsequent effects on cattle reproduction. We were specifically investigating estrus expression in dairy cows who were housed indoors compared to cows with free-choice access to an outdoor open-pack.

How will the skills you acquired through this course complement your future academic and/or career goals?

The thesis allows you to understand the process of research, from developing a research question to analyzing and interpreting the results. A very valuable part of the thesis was also gaining a more in-depth understanding of statistics beyond the courses that I had taken in undergrad, something that I now value in my MSc. This process also confirmed my passion for research and the field of dairy cattle welfare, which lead me to the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre with a NSERC USRA and subsequently into my MSc with the UBC Animal Welfare Program where I am continuing to research dairy cattle welfare and pasture access.

Courtney Boyd | Understanding and Assessing Rodent Welfare in Euthanasia: The Current State of Euthanasia and Midazolam as Potential Refinement for Isoflurane Induction

BSc. Applied Animal Biology, 2020

Courtney Boyd in lab with rats

Why did you choose to do a thesis?

I chose to do an undergraduate thesis to broaden my understanding of research methods and for the opportunity to conduct my own research in a topic I was very interested in. I wanted to attend graduate school to pursue an MSc, which led me to enrol in the honours applied animal biology program and complete an undergraduate thesis. I knew this would be a unique opportunity to prepare myself for future graduate studies and to explore if a career in research was right for me.

Which classes most prepared you for a thesis?

Research Methods in Applied Biology (APBI 398) was the class that best prepared me for my thesis. This course has two major components– students seek out and obtain a volunteer research assistant position to gain practical experience and then complete coursework related to the research project they are assisting with. This course helped build my networking and communication skills which helped me find a thesis supervisor and communicate with team members. The presentation components and final literature review paper in this course improved my writing skills and presentation abilities, which were definitely an asset when writing my thesis and presenting my findings.

Undergraduate Essay in Applied Biology (APBI 498) was another course that was quite helpful. This course prepared me for writing a much more comprehensive scientific paper than what is typically assigned in undergraduate courses. APBI 498 was an excellent opportunity to write an in-depth scientific review paper with the guidance and feedback of a graduate student and faculty supervisor.

Did you get to present your findings?

I was able to present my findings to my supervisor and members of the laboratory animal welfare team working in UBC’s Animal Welfare Program. I was able to present my project and preliminary findings in an APBI 490 lecture (Animal Welfare and the Ethics of Laboratory Animal Use), and these findings were also presented by my supervisor Dr. Daniel Weary at the 3R Symposium – Alternatives to CO2 in May, 2018.

What was your primary research objective?

My primary research objective investigated the potential for anxiolytics to reduce isoflurane aversion in rats as a refinement to current euthanasia methods. Current best practice for euthanasia of laboratory rodents requires they be anaesthetized with an inhalant anaesthetic gas (most commonly isoflurane) prior to the use of a killing agent such as carbon dioxide. Although isoflurane is less aversive than carbon dioxide, it is still aversive, and aversion increases upon repeat isoflurane exposures. My study investigated if premedication with an anxiolytic would reduce isoflurane aversion in rats based on the frequency of active defense behaviours performed.

How will the skills you acquired through this course complement your future academic and/or career goals?

Completing an undergraduate thesis was undeniably the most valuable course I completed in terms of my future academic goals. Completing a thesis demonstrates that you are capable of performing research in a professional context, and that you have the foundational experience required to successfully complete a graduate degree. This is a major asset when applying to graduate programs and professional jobs. Having the opportunity to work with so many talented people in the LFS faculty and Animal Welfare Program allowed me to make connections that have opened a lot of doors for me. I am currently working on a new research project to expand on my thesis research with the Animal Welfare Program, and am in the process of applying to master’s programs to continue my work in laboratory animal welfare.