Olivia is completing her Master’s at UNBC in Natural resources and environmental studies (NRES) with a specialization in biology. Wilson studied domestic cats and their impacts on birds in the south Okanagan Valley. Olivia grew up in Oakville, Ontario, and completed her Undergraduate degree at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She got a bachelor of science with a major in Biology. But Olivia said, “I actually studied plants during my undergrad and didn’t know I would end up here in PG studying birds or cats.”
From Olivia’s first year at McMaster, she wanted to do a Masters and continue schooling. Still, Wilson needed to have ideas about where she was going. So, during the summer of 2021, Olivia worked on a project in Ontario studying red-headed woodpeckers, where she met one of her now supervisors. This supervisor introduced Wilson to the cat count project, counting free-roaming domestic cats in Vancouver. The goal was to repeat the project in the south Okanagan valley and needed a master’s student. Olivia thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for her and searched for a supervisor. From then, Wilson started to actively look at the UNBC Masters programs. Olivia had only heard a little about UNBC beforehand. Still, she wanted to study in BC and was open to adventure. When Olivia was accepted by her supervisor, Dr. Erin Barewald, Wilson applied to the program and started her research.
For Olivia, to be a part of a Master’s program is a new experience and an exciting part of her life. Wilson said that Masters’s programs are different from undergrad because they have fewer required courses and its structured to take 2 years. However, a lot of research masters take more than 2 years. As a master’s student, you are expected to complete your research and figure out a class schedule around this. Masters programs have some mandatory classes that help introduce students to a master’s program, for example, course NRES 700. Wilson’s field season was at the beginning of her Master’s, and she completed all of her research at the Okanogan before she moved to Prince George.
For the thesis, Olivia studies free-roaming domestic cats and their impacts on birds in the south Okanagan valley. Cats kill up to 350 million birds per year in Canada, and she wants to understand how birds in the Okanagan could be affected by cats. As a part of the research, Olivia used trail cameras placed in different habitat types to see what habitats cats live in and how this could affect the birds in those habitats. This research is funded by the Stewardship Centre for British Columbia. They have a program that encourages homeowners to keep their cats indoors. The south Okanagan Valley is a unique area in Canada, as it is Canada’s only desert. There are a lot of birds in this area and very little information about the threats they face. Olivia believes that the project that she’s working on is significant because you have to understand not only the impact on birds but also the impact on cats. Outdoor cats can face a lot of dangers, and Wilson’s research aims to help protect them.
Having a master’s in biology allows you to go into research roles. You can also continue your studies if you want to complete a Ph.D. There are many environmental functions available when considering wildlife conservation and research, said Olivia. Having a masters gives you the background information as to why specific conservation projects take place and can provide you with the opportunity to be in a position where you decide what projects are necessary to protect different species.
For now, Wilson’s primary focus is to work on her research and finish her Master’s. For the future, Wilson is keeping her option open. Olivia would be available to complete a Ph.D. if there was an exciting project. Otherwise, she wants to start gaining experience. While Olivia is working on her Master’s, she would like to work anywhere in BC. Once she has completed her Master’s, she will see whatever options are available. Olivia is very excited about the endless opportunities in the biology field that will be available.
Outside of research and courses that Olivia is taking, she is also Teaching Assistant (TA) for a first-year biology lab. Olivia said she is happy to participate in the educational process. “I love being in the classroom and being able to help first years in learning the stepping stones that will help guide them throughout their undergrad,” mentioned Wilson. Olivia said that having a TA who makes classes interesting for the students is essential. “I remember my experience with TAs at McMaster, which made courses not very fun.” Olivia’s aim as a TA is to make classes packed with information and engaging for the students “if I’m going to be a TA, I don’t want to be like some of the TAs in my first degree,” Wilson mentioned. Instead, Olivia wants her students to have an enjoyable experience where learning is fun and engaging.
In conclusion, Olivia believes it was the right choice for her to come to UNBC. “McMaster was great for my undergrad, but it doesn’t have a strong focus on wildlife and conservation,” Olivia said. In Wilson’s view, UNBC is very strong in biology, mainly because of its proximity to the outdoors and various wildlife species. In addition, UNBC has a lot of classes in which you can learn about specific things in the classroom. Finally, the unique location of UNBC provides a unique learning opportunity in which students can put this knowledge into practice.