With Vanier Scholarships – Davi Monticelli

November 28, 2022
Davi de Ferreyro Monticelli (credit: Junyi Sun)

Davi de Ferreyro Monticelli, Vanier Scholar and PhD student in Atmospheric Sciences at UBC EOAS, originally from Brazil

What path have you taken that has led you to a PhD at UBC EOAS?

I found out that the Atmospheric Sciences program at UBC is very prestigious and has good funding for international students, which has always been an important part of the decision of where to study for me. I also realized that the scholars who are part of the group are great names in meteorology and atmospheric sciences in general, so I knew that in terms of next steps for my research pathway, I would be able to study and research with some of the best.

I also did a one-and-a-half-year exchange program at the University of Auckland in New Zealand in my undergrad, which allowed me to realise how important a good education could be in terms of what you get when you study at a world’s top 100 or 50 university, so I knew I had to leave Brazil to study in an environment where I could thrive.

Lastly, my supervisor and the type of research she does here was a really big draw for me. She does a lot of research with real-time measurements and data of atmospheric pollutants, which is something that I did not see much in my undergrad and Master’s study. I have a background in dispersion modelling but I knew I had to come up with a way to be involved with instrumentation and real time measurements. I know this is the future and would complete my education portfolio.

What did you study at undergrad/masters?

For my undergrad I did Environmental Engineering in Brazil. I watched a lecture from my (future) Master’s supervisor in air quality in urban regions and it completely caught my attention. I realized I really had to study this further because I was so interested in it, so ever since then I started doing co-ops and internships with scientific research groups and consultants related to air quality. Then for my Master’s degree, I continued in Environmental Engineering but with more of a focus on air quality as well. I was driven into modelling in both my undergrad and Master’s, but now I am doing something a little different to complete my portfolio.

What is your PhD project?

I came to Canada to study the air quality impacts of the cannabis cultivation industry, which has recently been changed to both medicinal and recreational usage. This change, however, happened without accompanying (and necessary) studies about the environmental impacts of this industry. Not that this is the industry with the highest impacts as there are many others which are higher (e.g., cars, construction), but still, it is an industry with immense potential to grow so we need to take some steps before we get to the point when it is hard to change what has already been done. We do not want industrial practices to get so entrenched that we can not change them before we know if there is a better way of doing things, as we have seen in many other industries.

When I applied for the position here, I talked to my supervisor who said that there was this ongoing project available. Some of the pollution from the cannabis cultivation industries (CCIs) is in the form of unpleasant smells, which is something I had experience of from my research back in Brazil.

The first year has been pretty good. I dedicated a lot of my time to doing a literature review which was published earlier this year, and over summer I spent a lot of time in our PLUME portable laboratory doing fieldwork. Now I will start analysing that data and dive deeper to see what actually is the impact from this industry locally.

How will becoming a Vanier scholar affect the path of your PhD?

The Vanier scholarship has created a change in my Ph.D. that was not totally expected, but at the same time, if I had thought about it in greater detail I would have perhaps foreseen.

When I first came here to do my PhD, my stipend was paid by a grant that was dedicated to seeing how the CCIs would change air quality. So essentially, my PhD would have to respond to the funding I was given, so I did not have as much flexibility. But now with the Vanier scholarship, I am essentially self-funded, so I have more liberty to choose the direction I want to take my PhD project in.

This does not mean I am going to stop researching about CCIs, which was what I put on my Vanier application; it means CCIs can be part of my PhD and do not have to constitute the whole thing anymore. Instead, I am able to focus on wider-reaching research on how smells affect air quality in the Greater Vancouver area, using public data collected via an app (“smell Vancouver”) to identify regions that warrant further investigation with the PLUME van. Therefore, I think I will end up shifting my research a little bit to the relationship between odours and air quality and what I can do about it.

What advice would you give to anyone applying for the Vanier scholarship?

The scholarship considers three things in equal measure: your academic performance, your research potential, and leadership qualities. The leadership part is really what makes this scholarship different from most scholarships that are out there, and also the part which is hard for students, and especially international students, to have the necessary background.

There are many ways you can express leadership, such as volunteering, committees, participating in department meetings, advocating for something. What I would say is you should seek out these opportunities as one third of your evaluation is based on that. I think this really puts you ahead of other applicants who may be lacking a little in this aspect.

Finally, what are you most excited about in the rest of your PhD project?

I hope to help the most people I can in terms of connecting smells and air quality, and especially the health effects aspect of this research. So far in the literature, smells have been associated a lot with annoyance but health implications have been overlooked. I hope in the next two years or so I will be able to put out some good science to answer questions related to this topic and help the most people possible.