BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences research assistant Heather Brown


Exchange students putting science into action

Extracting fish DNA is not what Daniela Rodrigues expected to be doing when she came to Canada as part of Science without Borders.

But trying something new was, and the international exchange program between Canada and Brazil certainly delivered that.

“They came up with this opportunity and I decided, ‘Okay, I am going to try,’” the Brazilian chemistry student said. “‘It will be good for me …a new experience in another area.”

That new experience included not only studying English and biology at North Island College (NIC) but also working with the B.C. Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (BC CAHS) in Campbell River for two months.

The centre provides diagnostic and research services for wild and farmed fish health assessments, pathogen monitoring, prevention and control, and food safety research for BC’s aquaculture and fisheries industries. It also educates and trains fish health professionals, facilitates independent research, and provides applied level investigation to industry.

Rodrigues’ internship includes extracting DNA from fish samples and making copies to be used for research. She also provides routine laboratory work and occasional field work on fish farms.

Her placement with BC CAHS is the culmination of a journey from her home in Cuiaba, Brazil to Comox, B.C. and NIC to take part in the Science without Borders (SwB) scholarship program in the fall of 2013. Under the program, Brazilian students are able to study internationally in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students engage in one year of undergraduate study as part of a Brazilian Ministry of Education effort to provide training for students and researchers internationally.

Rodrigues’ experience reflects not only the international partnership between Canada and Brazil but also inter-agency partnering in North Island College’s service region.

The college has an established relationship with BC CAHS, having placed a student with the organization previously to give student researchers access to specialized genetic analysis equipment and expertise. Naomi Tabata, manager of the college’s Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation said that paved the way for BC CAHS to get involved with the college and Science without Borders.

“It seemed like a great fit,” Tabata said.

But before Rodrigues could begin the work experience at BCCAHS, she needed to brush up on her English.

Her lack of English actually influenced her first choice in applying to the program. Naturally, she wanted to go on an exchange to Portugal. Portuguese is the dominant language in Brazil, reflecting its origin as a colony of that European country.

“But there were so many Brazilian students applying for Portugal,” Rodrigues said.

Consequently, applications to that country were capped, Rodrigues said. So, an English-speaking country was her second choice.

“I chose English because I thought, ‘Oh, it’s a good opportunity,’” Rodrigues said. “Because to learn English in Brazil, you can do that but it is not as good as going to another country.”

From there it was choosing which English-speaking country: Canada, Australia, the United States?

She studied the options, looking at quality of life and education.

“I thought, ‘Oh, Canada seems nice and it’s different,” she said.

The city and educational institution was selected for her and that brought her to the Comox Valley and North Island College.

She has been pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at the Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso in her hometown of Cuiaba, a city of over 500,000 people in eastern Brazil. When she first came to North Island College, she had planned to do something in chemistry but focused on biology, where there were greater learning opportunities.

But first, there was that small matter of improving her English. She chose to live with a Canadian family to develop her language skills.

“It was really hard at first for me because I was shy, afraid of talking to people because of my English,” she said. “But, after three months it was getting better for me.

“I improved so much my English in this short time that I have been here.”

Her homestay family also introduced her to Vancouver Island and British Columbia, touring her around to many places.

“It’s amazing living here. Everywhere you look it is so beautiful; not only the place but the people here,” she said.

Coming from tropical Brazil, she realizes how lucky she is to live in one of the warmer parts of Canada. She has grown to appreciate this country.

“I love Canada,” she said. “Canadians I like very much because they are so polite, you know. I really like that.”

She left a positive impression on her co-workers at BC CAHS as well.

Dr. Ahmed Siah was one of her supervisors there and he was impressed with Rodrigues, NIC’s second Science without Borders student to work with BC CAHS. Flavia Adais, from Maceio, Brazil, also worked with the organization.

“She was great and Flavia as well,” he said.

“They achieved their objective which is to learn about microbiology,” Siah said. “They were integrated into the team.”

“I hope we have helped them for their future work at least to bring back to Brazil, how we work here in a professional lab.”

After her placement ended, Rodrigues went back to Cuiaba to finish her degree. Her plans are to pursue a master’s degree and she may

apply to do it in another country. She credits her SwB experience with giving her the confidence to do that.

She is enthusiastic about the program saying it is beneficial to both Canada and Brazil. She believes Brazilians bring a new perspective and new ideas to Canada. The exchange has given her the opportunity to learn new techniques, which she will bring back to her native country.

It also gave her the opportunity to grow as a person.

“I can bring the experience with me,” she said. “Not only my experience with working but what I’ve become since I came here.

“Because, I’ve changed a lot; my objectives and the way I am now is also changed.”

In addition to working with the BC CAHS, Science without Borders students from Brazil have also been studying industrial automation, mobile application development, and aircraft structures at NIC.