Science on her skin: New alumna overcomes adversity gets alma mater insignia inked

Faculty of Science graduate commemorates convocation with two new tattoos

Katie Willis - 16 June 2017

For new bachelor of science graduate Brooke Biddlecombe, tattoos are a way of commemorating experiences, accomplishments, and roads travelled.

"I'm the first person on either side of my family to graduate from university, so this seemed like the perfect occasion to commemorate with a tattoo," she said with a smile.

And so, 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 pawprint at the very end.

"Be so, so proud of going to university, and especially of going to the University of Alberta." -Brooke Biddlecombe

Uncertain beginnings

Biddlecombe started at the University of Alberta six years ago, studying animal biology. But one month into her third year, Biddlecombe dropped her courses and left university.

"I've always had anxiety," she explained. "In the first two years of my undergraduate degree, it was brutal. I had a really hard time meeting people. I couldn't speak to my professors. In fact, it ended up being the reason I decided to take some time away from school."

Two years later, after travelling to California, becoming a certified yoga teacher in Guatemala, and working full-time teaching yoga and dance, Biddlecombe was ready to finish her degree. "It's just something I'd always wanted to do," she explained. "Ever since I was a kid, graduating from university felt like such a significant accomplishment. I was drawn back again and again, and after some time away, I was ready to dive in again."

Finding her passion

In September 2015, Biddlecombe returned to the University of Alberta, enrolling in the ecology specialization program. After taking a course on northern ecology with UAlberta polar bear expert Andrew Derocher, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, Biddlecombe found her passion in polar bear research.

"As soon as the course was finished, I emailed Professor Derocher to ask if I could do a directed study in his lab. And after that, I asked if I could be his graduate student too."

In three short months, Biddlecombe will embark on her next academic journey, a master's degree in the Derocher lab studying the mating habits of polar bears in the Beaufort Sea.

Science on her skin

Standing with her parents at convocation, Biddlecombe smiled. "Be so, so proud of going to university, and especially of going to the University of Alberta. It's an incredible school. You've accomplished a lot."

Her mother and father smiled too, proudly showing their UAlberta shield tattoos as well.

Congratulations to all of the Spring '17 graduates.


How I overcame my anxiety

For anyone struggling at university, Biddlecombe says that student groups are a great place to start. "The best thing I ever did for my anxiety and my university experience overall was go to clubs fair. It was hard, but it was so worth it."

Another great place to meet people is in the lab, she says. "Be friendly. Be the person who breaks the ice. And try to remember that everybody is feeling the same way as you--not totally certain, but willing to try."

There are many programs on campus that support and promote mental well-being. For more information, visit the Office of the Dean of Students.