Research transforms learning experience

When a Research Ambassador encouraged undergraduate student Ahmad Jalil to pursue his research interests by just reaching out to a professor in his field of interest, the Bachelor of Health Sciences student felt he might lack the skills required. His interest soon outweighed his hesitancy and he's recently submitted a manuscript for journal review based on his research with UNBC's Northern Analytical Laboratory Services.

March 1, 2023
Person in white lab coat with white gloves on sits at a lab table with clear protective hood.
Bachelor of Health Sciences student Ahmad Jalil is a research assistant in the NALS lab.

Research has taken Ahmad Jalil’s learning at UNBC to the next level.

The Bachelor of Health Sciences student went from volunteering at UNBC’s Northern Analytical Laboratory Services (NALS) to a paid research internship in the lab early in his undergraduate degree, not realizing at the outset how transformative the experience would be to his learning journey.

Jalil’s research into air pollution has become the basis for his Honours thesis as he prepares to graduate this spring with a major in Biomedical Studies.

Born in Dubai, Jalil graduated from high school in Williams Lake. “I chose UNBC because I heard from an acquaintance that students were made to feel like part of a community and I’ve really found that to be the case,” he says.

“I originally thought research was only for master’s and PhD students, but one of UNBC’s Research Ambassador held an event encouraging all students to get involved.” While the ambassador’s advice was to email a professor in a research area of interest, Jalil says he remained hesitant until he saw the opportunity at NALS and he’s incredibly grateful he reached out.

“Not only did they teach me about all the equipment, but they trained me on it and let me work through all the procedures. I wasn’t sure I had the skills, but I just jumped in with both feet,” he says. “I had a lot of questions, but the people at the lab were always willing to answer. They placed a lot of trust in me and that helped me gain confidence in the work I was doing.”

When the head of NALS and Senior Lab Instructor Dr. Hossein Kazemian asked the undergraduate researcher if he’d be willing to take on a project analyzing air pollution data that had been gathered in Prince George, it was another opportunity to jump at.

“I’d never done data analysis. At first, I wasn’t able to figure out how to process the data in a way that made it sound and useable, but I reached out to statistics professors at UNBC and they gave me insight on a methodology that helps deal with numbers that are missing in a data set,” says Jalil. “I also reached out to experts at other institutions doing similar research and had some of my questions answered.

“Through this project, I’ve realized what I find so fulfilling about research is the fact there’s no pre-determined answer. With research, you have to come up with an answer and then justify it.”

Encouraged to share his findings, Jalil has submitted his first manuscript to a scientific journal where it’s currently under review - a rare accomplishment for an undergraduate.

“Hossein wanted me to have the full research experience. He said doing the research and analyzing the data is the first part, but people need to know about your findings if your research is going to contribute to the knowledge base,” says Jalil, who chose to become Research Ambassador, himself, in the hopes of inspiring other students to seek out research opportunities.

“The experience at UNBC is one you can’t find anywhere else. It’s hard to believe until you experience it for yourself – the professors always have their doors open and you can just stop by and talk to them, even if you’re not in their class, but are interested in learning more about their area of expertise.”

With the completion of his Bachelor’s degree pending, Jalil has broadened his goals to a future that includes research. He hopes to expand into the field of medical research, using both what he learned in the classroom and the analytical skills he developed in the research lab.