It’s not very typical for your mum join you in your graduation photo, but Isabelle St-Martin didn’t mind: her mum is a new graduate too!
Both Isabelle and her mum, Dr. Shelley Canning, have been working hard at their credential for years.
Shelley, who is an associate professor of nursing at UFV and an elected member of the UFV Board of Governors, earned her PhD from the University of British Columbia recently.
Isabelle has just completed the requirements for a BSc with a double major in physics and biology and a math minor. She’s also a founder of the UFV Women in STEM (UFV WEST) club.
In honour of their double graduation and Mother’s Day, we asked them to answer a few questions about what it’s like to be studying and working at the same university.
You’ve now had three daughters go through UFV: what credentials did they attain and what are they up to now?
Geneviève graduated with an biology major and a French minor. She completed an honours biology directed study with Dr. James Bedard and then was accepted in a master’s program in genetic counselling at California State University. She is currently working as a genetic counsellor for BC Cancer at ARH.
Élise graduated with a double major in history and French, and returned the following year to complete her BEd. She is currently teaching at Clearbrook Elementary in Abbotsford in a Grade 3 and 4 class in French Immersion.
Isabelle is graduating this spring with a double major in physics and biology and a math minor. She is working for the summer at TRIUMF (Canada’s particle accelerator) as a research student and has been accepted into a master’s program at UBC in medical physics.
What was the best thing about having your daughters attend the university you teach at?
I was hired full-time at UFV in 2007 and Geneviève started her first year in 2009. Ever since then I’ve had at least one daughter attending UFV. I think the best thing about having the girls go to UFV was the opportunity it gave me to learn about the other departments. Geneviève’s directed study in biology introduced me to James Bedard — I could see firsthand how well he supported and inspired students through research, including the possibilities for publishing papers and attending conferences with students.
Through Élise’s student experiences at UFV I learned a lot about different methods of pedagogy. She shared the creative ways of teaching and learning she was exposed to in the History department. She also shared a wealth of information about evaluation and rubrics thanks to Sheryl McMath and the education faculty.
And finally, through Isabelle I was introduced to Friday afternoon physics problem sessions and Tim Cooper. I saw how student- centered and dedicated our science faculty is and saw the level of excellence of our science undergraduates as I attended their LIYSF presentations. Each of my daughters took different paths at UFV and that allowed me to meet colleagues, and see different ways of approaching teaching and supporting research from a range of departments.
You had the opportunity to do a research project with your daughter Elise recently. How was that experience?
One of my goals as a researcher is to conduct a study with each of my daughters. Right now I’m engaged in a study with Élise. Briefly, we have partnered her students and seniors from Elder College in a penpal project. The students and seniors are really enthusiastic about the project and we can see obvious benefits to both participant groups as we are beginning data gathering. We presented on the study last week at the Canadian Gerontological Nurses’ Association annual research conference and I was really impressed and proud as Elise presented her part of the research. I have some research ideas to partner with Geneviève around cancer care but I am not sure where my research with Isabelle will take me.
How does it feel to have three university graduate daughters?
I feel really proud of all three of them! They’ve always been interested in learning and university was a natural fit. UFV has provided them all with the foundation for careers that they love where they can make a difference. I couldn’t ask for more than that.
You worked all through your daughters’ school years. How did you balance the demands of a teaching career (and nursing before that) and being a ‘present’ parent?
I have always worked since having the girls. There was a period after Isabelle was born that I worked only part-time but then went back to full-time once she started school. I’m not sure how well I balanced things. But, I do know that at some point I stopped worrying about how tidy the house was 😊 Rene, my husband, was always really involved with parenting too. He is a teacher and so our house has always been full of teachers and learners. Typically, someone is always either marking papers or writing papers! The years have been busy but really fun.
Any advice for other UFV parents whose kids go to school here?
Find out about their profs, their courses, and the different opportunities and initiatives that happen in other departments. That is a great way to learn about different ways of approaching teaching and learning. It’s also a great way to learn about the research and scholarship other profs are doing and make some new connections.
Feel confident. All three of my daughters had great experiences at UFV – excellent profs, excellent mentorship, and excellent opportunities for research and experiential learning. And, those experiences have propelled them into careers that they love.
What was it like to go to university at a school where your mum was a professor?
Honestly, it was the best. Having my mum right there throughout my university experience made it so special. We could grab coffee between classes or go for walks around campus. She got to know all my friends and professors, and I got to know her colleagues. I think we both felt really proud when we introduced each other around the university. She has supported me through every success, challenge, and new endeavour, always making the time to listen and share her wisdom. I loved my time at UFV, and feel so lucky that I got to share it with my mum.
Did you find that faculty who taught you were aware of the connection?
At first, no. My mum is a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, whereas I was a student in the Faculty of Science. We also have different last names, so it is not necessarily an obvious connection. I think it usually clicked when my mum would stop by after class to meet me. My professors would be confused initially, and then I would see their realization. My mum is very involved within the UFV community, and so am I. We have done a lot together, and always support each other’s work. So, after a few years I think everyone had figured it out.
As a young woman in science and co-founder of UFV WEST (Women in STEM), was it inspirational to you to have a mum who was teaching in a science-related field, and pursuing her own PhD studies?
My mum inspires me every single day. She is a nurse, professor, and scholar. She is also a strong feminist, passionate about women’s rights and advocacy. What a lot of people don’t know is that she actually began as a woman in STEM herself. My mum has four degrees; her first was a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Biochemistry from UVic. When I first had the idea to found UFV’s very first women in STEM organization, my mum was the first person that I told. She has been there every step of the way, never missing an event, and consistently extending her time, money, and resources to support us. She calls herself UFV WEST’s number-one fan, and I absolutely agree. She has been my biggest supporter from the very beginning, and is a large part of why WEST exists today.
I know that having such a strong woman in my life to look up to has impacted me greatly. She has helped me to become the woman that I am today. People often say that we are a lot alike, and I could not think of a better compliment.
You and your mum were both pursuing a degree at the same time (PhD and BSc). Did this help you feel like you were in a supportive environment for studying and learning?
It was so much fun to pursue a degree alongside my mum. She has been my biggest source of support, as well as my biggest source of inspiration. I think she has read every piece of writing andlistened to me practise for every presentation that I have had to do throughout my studies. She has taught me a lot about academia and research, and has shown me what I hope my future will look like. I plan to get my PhD one day. I am not sure whether I would have come to this decision without having a role model like her to first show me what is possible.
What are you doing now that you will be graduating, and what are your long-term goals?
I have just graduated from my Bachelor of Science degree at UFV with a dual major in honours biology and physics, a mathematics minor, as well as a cellular, molecular, and genetics concentration. I have always known that this degree would not be my last, and I am excited to begin my Master of Science degree in medical physics at UBC in September. Following this, I intend to pursue my PhD and build a career that combines the critical roles that biology, physics, and math have to play in the future of medicine.
Being a mentor and advocate for emerging scientists is also something that I value deeply and will continue, wherever I find myself. Leading UFV WEST has given me a platform to make a real difference for marginalized groups in STEM. I plan to stay involved with UFV WEST and continue doing the work that means so much to me. In addition, I am joining UBC Young Women for STEM as their social director, and am excited to do more for the women in STEM community.
As for right now, I am spending the summer at TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator, involved in condensed matter physics research. I will really miss my time at UFV, but I am looking forward to the future and all the new opportunities to come.
What was the best thing about going to school where your mum taught (even though you were often on different campuses)?
I loved getting to share my university experience with my mum over the past five years. I think one of the best things was being able to see her in a new way. I have sat in on her lectures, listened to her presentations, and attended events with her. I have gotten to be a part of her academic world, and seen the contributions that she has made to UFV and beyond. My mum is a leader within the university, as a nurse, and in her research field as a gerontology scholar and patient advocate. I know I may be biased, but I think I have the coolest mum ever.