To celebrate being the first person on either side of her family to graduate from university, Brooke Biddlecombe had the UAlberta insignia inked on her leg (right). Her mother did too (left).
For bachelor of science graduate Brooke Biddlecombe, tattoos are a way of commemorating experiences, accomplishments, and roads travelled. A few weeks after her last exam, Biddlecombe decided she would get not one, but two new tattoos reflecting her experience at the University of Alberta. Inked on her leg is the University of Alberta shield, and the word “science” is written across her knuckles, with a polar bear paw print at the end.
Early in my undergraduate career, I was sure I had it all figured out. I knew what I wanted to study and where I wanted my education to take me. All of that certainty took a turn rather quickly, as the stress of university and my painfully shy personality came together to amplify a lifelong struggle with anxiety to an unmanageable level. I became so overwhelmed and so unsure of myself I ended up withdrawing from my courses and taking two years off, when I lived abroad for a short while. And although I had some great experiences, what those two years really showed me was that my true passion is in science.
So, two years later, I re-enrolled, switching my degree just slightly to focus on ecology rather than animal biology. This time, I went in with an open mind, an improved awareness of my mental health, and a determination to engage in the “U of A experience.” I joined a student group right off the bat where I met some great people, many of whom are still some of my closest friends. This created a chain reaction where I began to build a support system that was absolutely invaluable throughout the rest of my degree. I exposed myself to many opportunities and experiences in the latter half of my degree that I genuinely would have never considered prior.
Science on her skin: After graduating with her bachelor of science in June 2017, Brooke Biddlecombe began her master’s degree, studying polar bears with renowned biologist Andrew Derocher.
With this new-found willingness to put myself out there, I made what I can easily describe as my best decision as an undergraduate. I approached the professor of my favourite course, renowned biologist Andrew Derocher, to be my supervisor for an undergraduate research project. He is now my supervisor for my master’s thesis, where I am literally doing the research of my dreams.
Reflecting back on my experience as an undergraduate, I can’t help but think of my proudest day just last spring at convocation. Graduating from university was a huge accomplishment for me, not just because I overcame a mental health struggle that I genuinely thought would keep me from ever finishing a degree, but because I am the first university graduate on both sides of my family. My parents made it very clear how much of an accomplishment that is for me and for our family. And as I look forward toward a life rich with the prospect of continued learning, I am so thankful for the opportunities UAlberta has afforded me. I am thrilled to be the first in what I hope is a long family line of University of Alberta graduates, who are all just as excited to embrace their inner nerd as I continue to be.
Speaking of embracing my inner nerd, as a current graduate student, it feels like a very important time to be in science. As young scientists, we have a valuable opportunity to use our skill set to investigate issues that not only interest us, but many of which will make our world better. Whether it be conservation, restoration, health, or development, science is increasingly focused on applied issues and problem solving.
We also have the unique opportunity of sharing our research in real time to a much wider audience, with the help of internet search engines and social media. But on a smaller scale, there seems to be a push in recent years to make research more accessible to the general public, perfectly exemplified by the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition happening right here at the University of Alberta. As a 3MT finalist earlier this spring, I had an amazing time not only sharing my research in a highly digestible format, but also learning about all the fascinating research that is happening on the U of A campus every day.
Platforms like this serve to make science and research more accessible, and—perhaps more importantly—they show the public just how diverse the up-and-coming faces of science really are. And as someone who has a habit of standing out in a crowd, I think that is something worth celebrating.