VIU Biology Graduate Sets her Sights on Protecting the Environment

Kimberley Barrett, VIU Bachelor of Science - Biology graduate

Kimberley Barrett, VIU Bachelor of Science- Biology Graduate

May 27, 2019 - 10:00am

Inspired by the environmental research she was able to participate in at VIU Kimberley Barrett is excited to enter into the world of research following graduation.


Biology graduate Kimberley Barrett isn’t going to medical school like she originally planned five years ago when she first started her degree at Vancouver Island University (VIU). Partway into her journey she discovered helping animals and the environment is what she is most passionate about.

“I grew up wanting to go to medical school after seeing what doctors were able to do for my sister who suffered from a congenital heart defect,” says Barrett, who is graduating this June with Bachelor of Science in Biology.

Within a day of being born her sister had to have open heart surgery and there were complications. She suffered a stroke partway through and continued to deal with long-term ramifications for years after that. 

“It was one thing after another and constant surgeries,” says Barrett. “There were more doctors, physiotherapists and many other medical professionals over the years who were able to do so much for her. My sister is a healthy young girl now and you wouldn’t know that she had such a hard time.”

Inspired by her sister’s recovery, when Barrett graduated from Alberni District Secondary School with a VIU President’s entrance scholarship she began taking science courses that would lead her to into the field of medicine.

“Biology was a stepping stone into some kind of a medical program for me,” says Barrett. “But then I started seeing all the amazing research that is done here and hearing about all of the incredible opportunities available to students, and I started thinking science wasn’t something happening in an ivory tower somewhere, it was happening here and it was something I could do.”

While at VIU, Barrett has been studying the genetic diversity of wild and captive Vancouver Island marmots–the most endangered mammal in Canada.  It involved using DNA extracted from hair or skin samples and investigating how much variation there is among more than 80 individual marmots. The research is aimed at providing insight into the genetic diversity left in the species to assist current conservation efforts. Specifically to avoid inbreeding of the captive marmots as more inbreeding increases the likelihood of the species extinction.

 In her final year, Barrett won a VIU REACH award for her Biology 491 independent research project and was also awarded a competitive Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to work in the VIU lab to expand her research.  

“I was really excited when Kim first approached me about research opportunities,” says Dr. Jamie Gorrell, VIU Biology Professor. “She was so enthusiastic and dove into the research. I pointed her in the right direction and she figured it out on her own.”

Barrett will start a Master’s of Science degree at the University of Alberta this September, where she will study cougar populations across Alberta using genetic techniques.

“I’m not ready to stop learning about ecology and there is so much more I want to know. I see the value of doing environmental research bearing in mind the effects of climate change and that more species are going to become extinct,” says Barrett. “I have time to pursue a master’s degree and do some really cool science. If at the end of two years I want to go into medicine, I still have time to do that too.”




Annette Lucas, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

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