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From landlocked to the ocean depths: in search of jellyfish

At UBC, Jessica Schaub found her passion for research and was particularly fascinated with jellyfish and their role in the marine ecosystem.

November 27, 2019

For Jessica Schaub, having grown up in the landlocked Canadian prairies, it was something of a paradox to aspire to work in ocean sciences. It was also a foregone conclusion that her dreams would require a move to the coast — and study at an appropriate institution, in this case, the University of British Columbia, with its high-ranking ocean science programs. For Jessica, there would be other issues as well — primarily financial.

“I grew up with a single father and a younger sister in a rural area of northern Alberta. Our financial situation was such that my father could not contribute to my schooling,” says Jessica. “I am also Alberta Métis, so I received a few benefits from UBC as an undergraduate, primarily through Indigenous student programming. My undergraduate degree was completely self-funded, with help from donors through bursaries and scholarships.”

At UBC, Jessica found her passion for research and was particularly fascinated with jellyfish and their role in the marine ecosystem. Finishing her undergraduate degree with combined honours in Oceanography and Biology, Jessica is now in the second year of her Master of Science degree. This program, supervised by Dr. Brian Hunt, UBC Hakai Professor in Oceanography — takes Jessica to the Hakai Institute’s ecological observatories on Quadra and Calvert Islands, in the northern Strait of Georgia, where she collects and analyzes jellyfish populations for her research.

“The nice thing about jellyfish research is that there are jellyfish all over the world. And the community of jellyfish researchers is very small, so any research that you do here is relevant in places like Europe and Australia, anywhere,” says Jessica.

But with equal passion, Jessica wants to pursue outreach, primarily to underserved demographics at UBC — especially women and Indigenous students.

“When I began my master’s degree and received the Aboriginal Fellowship, I felt a strong urge to reciprocate the benefits I had received and serve as a role model and support younger students,” Jessica says. “I began working with the Indigenous student service community in my first year, and now I have many outreach roles at UBC and across Canada.”

One of the roles Jessica Schaub has taken on is NSERC Aboriginal Ambassador, where she travels to remote communities to run STEM workshops with school students.

“It is my goal to eventually be well-known for my research and to do meaningful and collaborative work. On a local scale, I enjoy working with younger students and helping them realize their potential.” Schaub adds, “By getting to know other, younger students, I realize that my situation is far from unique. UBC’s Aboriginal Fellowship provided funding for my graduate degree. To re-iterate, I would not be pursuing a master’s without this funding. I have no doubt the students I meet are also supported by donors, and they would share my sentiments about the importance of student awards.”

For more about Jessica’s research click here.