Accomplished researcher wins Governor General’s top honour

Top honour for UBC student

UBC Okanagan student Mike Tymko has been honoured with this year's Governor General Gold Medal. 

The award is presented to the university's most accomplished doctoral graduate each spring. 

Tymko, who has published more than 60 research papers, focused his studies on helping people who are experiencing extreme conditions – whether that be where they live, or an illness they have – be able to breathe better. 

There are many people living in high-altitude regions such as Nepal, the Andean mountains and Ethiopia who could benefit from the research, as well as millions of tourists who travel to the destinations each year and those who do not travel but require help, says Tymko. 

“From a more clinical standpoint there are many pathologies that are characterized by low oxygen, such as people living with heart failure, obstructive sleep apnea and lung disease," Tymko said. "Studying healthy human adaptation to low oxygen in both the laboratory and in the field has implications to better understand the physiological consequences that occur in these clinical states. The findings from these studies are applicable not only to Canadians, but people worldwide.”

Tymko found his way into the Master's program after working with professor Phil Ainslie in 2012, when he was invited to join one of Ainslie's research expeditions to Nepal as an undergraduate at Mount Royal University. 

“At the time, UBC Okanagan was much smaller and Professor Ainslie was relatively new into his appointment, but you could tell the research team he was building was extremely unique even at that time,” says Tymko. “That was such an amazing trip to me from both a life and scientific perspective.”

Within months, he was a student in UBCO's School of Health and Exercise Sciences working with another colleague from the Nepal project – associate professor Glen Foster.

“I knew that as Professor Foster's first student I would be privy to more one-on-one training. I appreciate everything that he has taught me over the years and I wouldn't be the scientist I am today without his mentorship," Tymko said.

Tymko went on to revisit Nepal in 2016, as well as White Mountain, California in 2015 and Peru in 2018, where he co-led more than 40 scientists at a research station at Cerro de Pasco.

“This was undoubtedly Michael’s most impressive feat during his doctorate,” says Ainslie. “So far more than 10 research manuscripts have been published based on data collected during this expedition and many others will come in due course.

“Not only can he operate as a high-level academic but he can also design, implement, build and lead high-level scientific initiatives. His research interests expand those from normal laboratory-based experiments to the translation of the work into Indigenous populations at high altitude. He is a true allrounder and, importantly, also values the importance of scientific teaching and education. As an exceptional young scientist, he is fully worthy of this recognition.”

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