Pacific Ecology & Evolution Conference

By Lindsay Aylesworth

As a new Ph.D student starting in January, it’s been a challenging first few months learning about (and remembering) the various graduate students, professors and their research here at UBC. As someone new to Vancouver and even Canada, I was completely unaware of what other universities were close by, let alone who and what was being studied in my own (new) backyard.  However, an opportunity arose to go to the Pacific Ecology & Evolution Conference (PEEC) hosted by the University of British Columbia at the Bamfield Marine Science Center and little did I know this experience would change just that.

The view of Vancouver Island from the ferry.

The view of Vancouver Island from the ferry.

PEEC is held each year at Bamfield, located on Vancouver Island and run by a consortium of universities in Western Canada (Simon Fraser University, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary and University of Victoria). The aim of PEEC is to bring together graduate and advanced undergraduate students from Western Canadian and American universities to share their research in the fields of ecology and evolution. I’m used to attending international marine science conferences where big names in marine conservation are in attendance and I’m the lowly person on the totem pole. However, the nice thing about PEEC was that with only university students in attendance – we were the people to meet.

 View from 2nd ferry to the Bamfield Marine Science Center

 View from 2nd ferry to the Bamfield Marine Science Center

My first surprise was the actual trip to get to the research station. Yes I knew Bamfield was on Vancouver Island and the only way to get to the island was by ferry. Little did I know that after the first ferry, the voyage would involve a 90-minute car-ride, followed by another 3-hour ferry! Most of the main cities on Vancouver Island are accessible by car; however outside of these areas the only roads are those from commercial logging activities, with half of those in disrepair. The village of Bamfield is in a remote area, located in a protected inlet on the west side of Vancouver Island. The second 3-hour ferry was organized specifically for PEEC and provided the first opportunity to meet my peers attending the conference. 

Participants at PEEC on the ferry to Bamfield

Participants at PEEC on the ferry to Bamfield

The laid back atmosphere of the Bamfield Marine Science Center provided the right forum for students to get to know one another and the ongoing research at the different universities. I learned about some interesting work on lionfish at SFU, coral reef fish at University of Victoria, and even work of peers, now friends, at UBC on marine spatial planning, salmon fisheries, and diversity in seagrass meadows.

Saturday afternoon I attended an optional workshop on Science Communication hosted by Laurel Johnson of the Vancouver Aquarium. The goal of the workshop was to focus on the content of our research and how we communicate to a broad audience. The best part of the workshop was becoming a kid again to perform some experiments in the name of learning by doing. 

My team at the communication workshop

My team at the communication workshop

Here’s my team trying to figure out why the red dye is sitting on the surface in one cup and spreading throughout in the other.  (Answer it’s because one is salt water and the other is tap water. The different densities of the water cause the dye to react differently.)

The mysterious red dye that sits at the surface in one cup and spread throughout in the other

The mysterious red dye that sits at the surface in one cup and spread throughout in the other

After a day of presentations, networking and working on communication skills, a relaxing evening was to follow with the annual PEEC dance and costume contest. Similar to the TV show America’s Next Top Model, the theme of the costume contest was “Next Top Model Organism”, where people dressed in their most creative and interpretive meanings of their favorite organism. I’m proud to say the “Seahorse” was dubbed the next Top Model Organism after an epic dance- off between the flatworm, jellyfish and myself. 

And the next top model organism is…the seahorse

And the next top model organism is…the seahorse

PEEC was a fantastic way for me to get to know my peers both at UBC and at other universities in the Vancouver area. I would recommend it to any grad student – it’ll be the most relaxing and enjoyable conference you ever go to!