Probably the best answer is that I was motivated by the desire to do something interesting while I earn my living. I was partway through my studies in electrical engineering when I decided to emigrate from Eastern Europe (partly to avoid the compulsory military service and to see for myself what the imperialist West really looked like). I was offered one year of credits in Physics and zero credits in Engineering in Waterloo, so I chose to continue my studies in the Physics dept. My employment eventually led me to work at the interface of Physics, Chemistry and Engineering to extract metals such as nickel, iron and cobalt economically and environmentally responsibly from various mining and secondary sources – metals and materials, which are becoming known in the new electric era as the “battery materials.”
When I was a kid, I always loved problem solving. Originally, this led to my favourite subject being math. As I got further into math, I realized that I preferred problems that had clear-cut applications. I still enjoyed math, but I wasn’t passionate about it. Instead, I veered towards biochemistry for my undergraduate program. There, my absolute favourite courses were analytical chemistry and biochemistry. I loved the statistics and methodology of analytical chemistry and the applications of biochemistry, so I looked for graduate research opportunities that did a bit of both. Bioanalytical chemistry, specifically mass spectrometry, just sort of seemed natural, and so far, I’m loving it.
I almost feel that my scientific discipline chose me. My interests in university were biology and chemistry, but I always had a side interest in physics and astronomy. These eclectic interests developed into the field of Occupational Health and Occupational Hygiene, which relies on the knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics to reduce exposures to chemical and biological agents and ionizing and non-ionizing radiation to prevent occupational diseases. This also included occupational epidemiology and environmental management in industry. My hope is that it has improved the lives of workers and the community.
I chose mathematical physics, and later atmospheric physics, for a discipline since I’m fascinated by the ability to model physical reality using elegant mathematics, and I am passionate about stewardship of the earth.
I had a great high school Computer Science teacher who arranged to send my FORTRAN programs on punch cards for nightly runs on an actual computer (thanks, Mr. Brown). I find it rewarding to understand a problem well enough to solve it with a computer program. And even more rewarding to possibly see deep structure in the problem to solve an instance of it a million times faster by using a better algorithm.
As a kid, I voraciously read computer and business magazines, so it felt natural to progress from a degree in Commerce to become an accountant, IT consultant and then IT manager. In my volunteer work over the years, I’ve built or enhanced websites and social media accounts for my church and other charities. By using technology to connect with each other and share stories of all kinds of challenges and successes, I believe that we can promote peace and understanding.
I was fascinated with insects of life of all kinds since about age eight, so I wanted to become an entomologist. I did my Ph.D. on apple mite pests but then took a slight left into the weeds doing a postdoc on Weed Science as part of a very inspiring lab led by Clarence Swanton at the University of Guelph. Moving to the west coast of Canada and teaching a course in Hawaii drew me into the world of invasive plants, opening up an array of subjects for me to study the fascinating interplay between invasive plants, climate change and creation care.
I was an electronics hobbyist and ham radio operator as a teenager and learned to code on some of the early personal computers. My hobby led to my vocation, beginning as an electrical engineer working in industry in Waterloo and eventually discerning a call to teaching. Even as a professor, my hobbyist inclinations remain. I am still an active ham radio operator, and I take delight in tinkering with Raspberry Pi computers.
I chose biology because I fell in love with bugs and frogs and collected them endlessly as a child (much to my mother’s chagrin). Although I hadn’t necessarily planned on a career in biology, when my classmates started calling me “Betty Biologist,” I realized that I should consider it.
I initially entered seminary with the goal of becoming a pastor (and I have served in that role a couple of times over the years), but I really fell in love with theology. I find that life’s questions continually drive me back to the study table to search things out. Theology, for me, isn’t simply a body of information or a bunch of stale teachings, but an active practice, a discipline, of thinking about all things in relation to God, as revealed in Christ and by the Holy Spirit.