Awards and recognition

MSL Student Receives UBC Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award

Congratulations to Thristan Taberna from Dr. Peter Zandstra’s Stem Cell Bioengineering Lab (School of Biomedical Engineering, Michael Smith Laboratories) for being awarded a UBC Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award. The award recognizes excellence in teaching and is given to 19 Graduate Teaching Assistants at UBC every year.

Thristan Taberna – On Mentoring and the Future of Research

“Receiving this award is motivational. It’s rewarding working with students in the classroom,” comments Thristan Taberna.

Thristan’s teaching philosophy is rooted in the integration of engineering design principles with empathy-based teaching approaches where curiosity is encouraged, diversity is celebrated, and every voice is valued. He approaches instructional challenges with innovative solutions to ensure students stay on track.

Thristan has experience as a teaching assistant in multiple courses, but his favourite TA experience was in BMEG 371: Transport Phenomena within Cells and Tissues. When he started TAing this course, he noticed a disparity in students’ knowledge of prerequisite math skills. He proactively addressed the gradient in students’ math backgrounds by surveying them at the beginning of the semester and then provided targeted guidance through tutorial sessions to ensure that all students had the necessary foundation to excel in the course. The approach was a success academically, but also ensured that students felt like they had a supportive learning environment. The student reviews once the course was complete all clearly emphasized gratitude to this approach with one student stating, “I really appreciate how much time and effort he put into helping us learn the material and succeed in assignments. I learned more from his tutorials than in the entire rest of the course. He was extremely engaging and framed things in a way that was easy to understand.”

“Thristan’s teaching style combines engineering and technical rigour while really caring about student learning. His leadership style makes a powerful impact on the students he teaches by showing them how to build consensus and work towards shared goals which is a valuable asset in the lab,” shares Dr. Peter Zandstra.

Thristan moved to Vancouver for the opportunity to do research in the Stem Cell Bioengineering Lab run by one of his mentors, Dr. Peter Zandstra, after being fascinated by the research happening in the lab. Thristan’s research focuses on developing a scalable bioprocess to produce off-the-shelf T cell immunotherapies using pluripotent stem cells (PSCs). The current vein-to-vein model for chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is expensive, inaccessible, and variable. The new process that Thristan is working on has the potential to drive down the cost of CAR T-cell therapy making it more accessible to patients.

His passion for stem cells has also led him to inspire a younger generation of scientists. In 2023, Thristan and a group of students from StemCellTalks Vancouver hosted 200 high school students at UBC for a day of talks and hands-on experiments to get them excited about stem cell research.

Thristan is also just as excited about the opportunities that await him in the future.

“What really excites me is the ability to engineer cells by using synthetic biology as well as engineering their environment to produce more effective therapies. The landscape at UBC with SBME’s new building and all the partnerships between industry and academia provide endless possibilities.”


A version of this story was originally posted by the School of Biomedical Engineering.