Rising stars

Christina Vanderwel, winner of the University’s 2015 Pierre-Laberge Prize for the best PhD thesis in science and engineering.

Introducing Carole Beaudry (BSc. ʼ15) and Christina Vanderwel  (PhD ʼ15, Mechanical Engineering) – two new alumnae ready to take the world by storm.

By Valérie Charbonneau and Brandon Gillet

Published Tuesday December 15, 2015

Angiosperm wood anatomy, Campylobacter jejuni, pathogenic bacteria… Pretty complicated terms for your average person. But everyday stuff for Carole Beaudry (BSc. ʼ15), one of the more than 1,800 who graduated at the fall convocation.

At birth Beaudry was diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss. Over the years, her hearing worsened and she became deaf.  

In 2008, Beaudry began a degree in health sciences, but quickly switched to biology, developing a particular interest in micro-organisms and agriculture. To take in all the information from her professors and participate in group discussions, she used two interpreters.

“They would translate the language spoken to sign language, my mother tongue,” she explains. “As I only know Quebec Sign Language (LSQ) and I’ve taken many courses in English, my interpreters had to work with three languages, from English to French to LSQ, and vice versa.”

A painstaking process

Here’s how it worked: English to French, then French to LSQ, and LSQ to French, then French to English, a dual interpretation process.

“I was entitled to two interpreters, because dual interpretation is extremely draining. They took turns, changing every 20 minutes,” says Beaudry.

In 2012, Beaudry registered for the CO-OP program and completed several placements, including one abroad.

“I went working at the University of Ulm, Germany, as a laboratory research assistant in botany and ecology. My research was on the angiosperm wood anatomy and hydraulic parameters of water transporting cells in plants.”

In 2013, she worked for the Public Health Agency of Canada, in Lethbridge, Alberta, as a molecular research technician. In 2014, she completed a CO-OP placement at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in Ottawa, in the same role. 

In 2014, Beaudry headed off to Tanzania for a 19-day course on ecosystems and socio-economic trends in that country.

“The Tanzanian economy is largely dependent on agriculture and tourism,” she says. “It’s a problem for those who rely on agriculture because they’re all competing for arable land.”

From 2011 to 2015, Beaudry worked in the National Capital Region, with livestock and hydroponics farming.

“I monitored animal health and observed behaviour changes to prevent loss. I kept watch on pregnant goats that were due, ensuring there were no complications. I performed grafting in order for orphaned kids (goats) to be accepted by their foster mothers.”

When Beaudry began her studies, she spoke little English. But after extensive reading, several university courses and lots of practice, she’s added the language to her repertoire, making her a trilingual (English/French/LSQ) biology grad.

Liquid research

Christina Vanderwel is no stranger to hard work, having recently received her doctorate in mechanical engineering with straight A-pluses.

Vanderwel’s research focuses on fluid mechanics, which Oxford defines as “the study of forces and flow within fluids.” It can be applied to the study of air pollution, meteorology, ocean mixing and many other engineering areas.

“The title of my thesis was ‘Turbulent Diffusion in Uniformly Sheared Flow.’ It studied the mechanisms of mixing in turbulent flows,” said Vanderwel.

She performed experiments in a water tunnel located in the basement of Colonel By Hall, creating a “uniform turbulent shear flow,” which is basically a fluctuating water flow created by force.

Vanderwel would then release a plume of fluorescent dye into the turbulent flow and study how it dispersed. She used lasers to light up the dye and measure the velocity and concentration fields of the flow. Her experiments showed the rate at which the dye spread through water.

Christina Vanderwel, winner of the University’s 2015 Pierre-Laberge Prize for the best PhD thesis in science and engineering.

Christina Vanderwel, winner of the University’s 2015 Pierre-Laberge Prize for the best PhD thesis in science and engineering.

Perseverance and just rewards

Vanderwel’s hard work and perseverance earned her the University’s Pierre Laberge Prize for the best PhD thesis in science and engineering. And that’s not all.

 “I published three articles in leading journals in my field, as well as two articles in international conferences in Italy and Australia,” said Vanderwel.  “However, I was also heavily involved in working as a teaching assistant throughout my studies and volunteering for the mechanical engineering graduate student association.”

 Since she submitted her thesis in the summer of 2014, she has been working as a postdoctoral fellow in in England, funded by a Marie Curie Fellowship from the European Union.

“I was offered a permanent position at the University of Southampton as a lecturer, the same level as assistant professor in Canada, which I officially start on November 1,” said Vanderwel.

A journey such as Vanderwel’s can’t be completed without support. Vanderwel recognizes how the University of Ottawa has helped her in her path to academic excellence.

“I am most grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Stavros Tavoularis, for his guidance and support,” she said. “But I'd also like to give a special thanks to the Mechanical Engineering Machine Shop in the Colonel By building, who often went above and beyond in helping me design and build my experiments, and who are an indispensable resource to the faculty.”

According to Vanderwel, knowing why you do what you do keeps you focused on your goals and open to new ways of thinking through the long PhD process.

“I think perhaps the most important thing I learned was perspective,” she said. “Completing a PhD is tough work, and gathering the motivation to continue studying takes continual effort.

However, no matter how tough it got, I found that with the right perspective, I could remind myself of everything I had accomplished and the goals I was striving towards.”

Carole Beaudry in the desert in Tanzania.

Carole Beaudry in the desert in Tanzania, where she took a 19-day course studying the country’s ecosystems.
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