Former Mal-U student enjoys academic success

December 8, 2004 - 4:00pm

Six years ago, Catherine Young was a stay-at-home mom raising three small children. She enrolled in part-time classes at Malaspina University-College, and juggled post-secondary studies with the demands of motherhood. Young had no idea where the future would lead.

Today, this 40-year-old Ladysmith resident is a PhD candidate who has received a prestigious federal scholarship worth $63,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). She conducts scientific research at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo where she studies a deadly parasite affecting Chinook salmon.

"Catherine Young’s success illustrates what people can accomplish at Malaspina University-College," said biology professor Dr. Allan Gibson, Young’s fourth year faculty advisor. "She was a mature student who returned to her post-secondary studies after a number of years of not working, and she excelled."

Young’s story is an inspiration for anyone thinking about returning to school, added biology professor Tim Goater.

Originally from northern B.C., Young dropped out of college to get married and raise a family. She enrolled part-time at Malaspina in 1998 when her children were ages five, nine and 11. "I felt like I was returning to university with a grade school education," Young said. "It wasn’t easy."

Despite a marriage break-up, Young persevered with her studies. She enrolled in full-time classes, finding her niche in biology. Young graduated in 2002 with a degree, and was named the department's most outstanding student.

Young's academic success blossomed during a fourth year independent research course called Biology 491. "The course is a requirement for all Mal-U undergraduate science students," she explained.

Young’s research focused on a parasite that infects Atlantic salmon. Thanks to connections between Malaspina professors and Nanaimo’s Pacific Biological Station, Young worked closely on the project with scientist Dr. Simon Jones.

"Dr. Jones was so impressed with Catherine’s research skills and abilities that he helped her secure a position in graduate school at the University of Victoria," said Gibson. "This is the first time where a Malaspina science student has entered graduate school directly as a result of his or her Biology 491 project."

Thanks to her high marks, strong references, and research experience, Young began work on her master's degree a year-and-a-half ago. Jones, her graduate school supervisor, encouraged her to apply for the highly competitive NSERC scholarship. Young learned in September that she will receive $63,000 over three years, and that UVIC awarded her special permission to skip straight into the PhD program.

"I'm thrilled," said Young. "I directly attribute my academic success to the research experience I gained at Malaspina, and to the incredible support I received from my Mal-U professors and Dr. Jones at the PBS."

Young commutes to classes at UVIC, but also works in the Parasitology Fish Health section of the Pacific Biological Station. "It's a hectic schedule, but I feel fortunate that I can conduct my research locally," she said. "It allows me to live at home in Ladysmith and still be there for my children (now 11, 14 and 16)."

Young's current research is an investigation of the immune functions in Chinook salmon in response to infection with a parasite called loma salmonae. "It's a natural progression from the work I started at Malaspina," she explained.

"I vaccinated Chinook salmon with dead spores from the parasite, and later I'll expose the fish to living spores to see if they’ve developed any resistance to disease. The ultimate goal is to find a vaccine for loma salmonae because it forms cysts in fish gills. It can be fatal for any Pacific salmon species. It's certainly not glamorous work, but I just love what I'm doing," she added.

Young’s study is part of a larger research project in collaboration with a group of scientists at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Last fall, Young happily accepted the challenge to teach a one-semester course in cell biology at Malaspina. "It was great experience and confirmed my future career path," Young said. "Once I complete my PhD, my goal is to become a university-college professor. To end up teaching at Malaspina would be a dream come true."

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