18th April 2016 -Jen McDonald, Western University

Jen McDonaldI started my MSc at Western University (back when it was the University of Western Ontario!) in September 2007. In 2009, I rolled up to a PhD, and graduated in August 2015. When I finished my undergrad degree at McMaster University, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life (I still wonder if I know what I want to do with the rest of my life…) so I applied to both teacher’s college and graduate school. I was rejected at every teacher’s college I applied to, but accepted to grad school…so I guess that made that decision easy! I chose my supervisor, Dr. Greg Thorn, based on how cool is previous grad students’ projects sounded: many of them did work in Costa Rica, and it was my dream to travel somewhere exotic for field work! Joke’s on me; I still have never been to Costa Rica, and my field work was all done in Ontario. For my PhD thesis I studied the systematics of an obscure group of fungi, comparing morphologial and molecular methods of identifying species. I found out that, while morphology may be informative for some species, there’s an enormous amount of morphological variation in other species. Geography and host or substrate might also be informative for some species (some are highly host- and location-specific), while others are generalists that are truly cosmopolitan (one species occurs on five continents across temperate and tropical forest ecosystems) or have been collected on twenty different species. I managed to describe a few (OK, to toot my own horn: 18) new species from herbarium collections, fresh collections from my field work, fresh collections mailed to me from around the world, and culture collections.

During my degree I rekindled my passion for teaching and became heavily involved in curriculum mapping, course development, and teaching pedagogy. I now have a contract in partnership between Nelson Publishing and Western U to implement new teaching and learning technologies into our massive first year biology course (about 1800 students across 2 different courses).

While in grad school I also taught myself how to knit, and I work part-time in a yarn store. So Twitter beware: I’ll probably be tweeting about my knitting!

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