Busch, Stephen

Stephen Busch, he/him/his
Degree: 1st year, Doctor of Philosophy in Kinesiology
Supervisor: Dr. Bill Sheel
Teaching Assistant for KIN 235

What is your research/degree focusing on?
My general research theme focuses on the complex physiological interaction between the human respiratory, nervous, and cardiovascular systems in response to our environment. I’m exploring this theme from the perspective of ambient air pollution produced by human sources, which causes imbalance between all three systems even during short term exposure. This imbalance between all three systems may be the precursor to various harmful cardiovascular conditions often seen within individuals exposed to various air pollutants, such as vehicle emissions, over long periods of time. My research will specifically investigate whether the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for controlling our body’s unconscious “fight or flight” response) becomes more active during both acute and repeated exposure to several vehicle emission related by-products, including ozone and particulate matter. In addition, I will also aim to uncover whether the increase in sympathetic activity is the result of sensory mechanisms within the lungs that may become irritated when exposed to air pollution.

Why is this field important to you? Why is it important to the School and/or to society?
Ambient air pollution is an ever-growing topic of concern as we continue to learn more about its effects on human health. Over the past several decades there has been a growing body of evidence demonstrating the numerous adverse health effects that arise from long-term exposure. Air pollution both causes and worsens chronic disease (cardiovascular and respiratory related) while also increasing the risk of premature death for a considerable portion of the global population.

Though Canada has not traditionally seen levels of ambient air pollution comparable to those in other developing regions of the world, the trend for increased urbanization by young Canadians to metropolitan areas is resulting in greater reliance on vehicle transportation for daily commuting. In addition, the effects of climate change on extreme weather events in western Canada is increasing both the duration and severity of wildfire seasons, which also lowers air quality. To understand the pathophysiology behind the negative health outcomes to air pollution exposure, we must also understand the underlying human physiological response at the onset of exposure in both healthy populations and those with pre-existing health conditions. My research aims to provide important insight into the underlying physiological mechanisms that both initially respond and adapt to air pollution, which may eventually lead to long-term autonomic imbalance and cardiovascular dysfunction.

What was your undergraduate degree in? How did your undergraduate studies influence your path to UBC KIN grad school?
I graduated with a BHK from UBC Okanagan in 2014. I was fascinated with the underlying adaptive biological mechanisms that allow humans to thrive across a wide range of global environments, and was nurtured through my undergraduate courses and 4th year research practicum placement with the Centre for Heart, Lung & Vascular Health. My experience at UBCO led me to pursue a MSc from the University of Alberta, where I studied how the sympathetic nervous system controls blood pressure in response to low oxygen environments. The highlight of my Masters was conducting my thesis study during a month-long multinational collaborative research expedition near the base of Mount Everest in 2016. Upon graduating from U of A in 2018, I moved to Vancouver and worked as a research assistant. I applied to the UBC School of Kinesiology in the winter of 2021. UBC was my first choice for my PhD, as I was both inspired and impressed with the breadth of top-quality physiology research being conducted from across faculty members within the School of Kinesiology.

Is your work interdisciplinary? Do you work in research clusters?
The research I do is highly interdisciplinary, as my research questions address a wide range of interconnected physiology topics. I’m fortunate to work in a lab that also examines a diverse range of physiology topics including exercise physiology, biomechanics and clinical rehab, and lung mechanics. In addition, our lab space is shared with other researchers who focus on environmental physiology, sports medicine, muscle molecular biology and muscle protein metabolism.

What do you hope to do with your degree when you are finished grad studies?
I will continue along the path that involves researching the human physiological response to various environmental stressors. Following completion of my doctorate program, I want to continue studying the relatively unknown area of autonomic-cardiovascular control and pollution in order to uncover the physiological mechanisms surrounding air pollution and human illness. I have also developed a love for teaching during my time as a teacher assistant and lab instructor. I want to continue teaching so I can share the same passion I had for environmental physiology during my undergraduate with the next generation of upcoming physiologists.

What have you learned from being a TA and what would you advise prospective grad students about these experiences?
I have served as a Student Rep, and in TA positions at several points of my Masters and PhD. These positions have all taught me many unique lessons. However, the common theme amongst them all can be summarized through four main points: i.) Be open to new ideas and learning opportunities. You’re still a student and are also here to learn so be ok with not knowing everything, ii.) Be prepared with a plan but also be flexible for whatever situation may occur. Grad school, research, and teaching will throw many unexpected situations so remain calm, confident, and ready to adapt to what the situation requires, iii.) Be compassionate, patient, and inclusive of your colleagues and (especially) undergraduate students. Encourage students to ask questions and also create learning opportunities from their mistakes. Recognize the diverse background and needs of people that work and study at UBC, and iv.) Be engaging and proud of what you know! Show why you became passionate about your topic. People will pick up on this and be equally excited to learn more about the topics you present or teach.

Do you have any advice to give students who are thinking about grad school?
The choice to pursue grad school is both an exciting and daunting prospect. As in life, grad school is filled with high peaks of exciting accomplishments, challenging low points that you will struggle to overcome and learn from, and a few surprises thrown in to keep grad life interesting. There are many things to consider when applying for grad school. One thing I highly recommend before applying is that you meet both your potential supervisor and lab mates. In this way you will see what the lab dynamic is like and ensure that your supervisor and colleagues work well with your learning style. These people will be your main group for collaboration while also being your cheer squad when you need a little extra support.

Remember that grad school is more than just studying and deepening your understanding in a particular field. Grad life is an important time to discover your own dreams and aspirations, while also encouraging lots of self-reflection. You will meet many people in grad school working on amazing projects, so take time to talk with them and broaden your understanding in different areas.


We acknowledge the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
Nous remercions le Conseil de recherches en sciences naturelles et en génie du Canada (CRSNG) de son soutien.