Chris Shanks sits on a blue chair in a library.

The art of finishing two degrees during a pandemic

September 9, 2021
Author: Rachel Stern

Meet this year’s recipient of VIU’s Governor General’s Academic Silver Medal

Chris Shanks wanted to pursue a truly interdisciplinary education during his time at VIU, which is why he enrolled in both a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Liberal Studies and a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Psychology and Biology. 

Despite carrying a heavy course load while completing two degrees at the same time, he achieved high marks in his classes. Chris is this year’s recipient of VIU’s Governor General’s Academic Silver Medal, which is awarded annually to the student who received the highest academic standing in a bachelor’s degree program. Chris received silver for achieving a perfect GPA in his Bachelor of Science degree.

“I think it’s the biggest honour I could have hoped for at this stage of my education,” says Chris. “I always had it in the back of my mind; but, at the same time, I always thought of it as wildly improbable.”

Chris says the key to academic success during the pandemic was ensuring he had a set routine and structure to his day. This was possible because he worked full-time, and also had a fourth-year lab project in biology, which allowed him to be on campus part of the time.­­

“It helped add structure and human contact, which proved a blessing,” he says.

Chris, who graduated from VIU this June, is continuing on his path of learning and is attending the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law to pursue a law degree this fall. In addition to getting accepted to Allard, Chris was accepted to Green College at UBC, a competitive, interdisciplinary graduate residential college.  

“Getting accepted to both Allard and Green was quite incredible. Law is definitely an interdisciplinary field, but having the honour of attending Green concurrently will also keep me exposed to ideas from graduate students studying and researching in all sorts of departments at UBC,” says Chris. 

During his first year of law school, Chris wants to take a variety of different courses to see which area resonates with him and then he will choose a focus area. 

“I can see all the areas I have studied at VIU — not only liberal studies, biology and psychology, but even other electives I have taken — contributing to my understanding and enjoyment of the law. If you have the privilege to study many areas at VIU, definitely take advantage of the opportunity. It may actually make choosing your ultimate path more difficult, but it is so rewarding,” says Chris. 

Some standout moments while attending VIU included working on his upper-level biology and liberal studies course projects. 

For liberal studies, with the guidance of Professor Maureen Okun, he wrote a critical essay on Lord Dunsany’s The Charwoman’s Shadow.  

“Dunsany was one of the earlier modern fantasy writers and a huge influence on later, better known authors, such as Tolkien,” says Chris. “Nevertheless, Dunsany’s style of fantasy is strange, mystical and dream-like, aspects that have been set aside to some extent in modern, mainstream fantasy literature.”

For his biology project, Chris worked with Dr. Joslynn Affleck examining how genes of the common fruit fly were affected by sub-lethal doses of naphthenic acids. The acids are a toxin that can be found in the oil sands in Alberta. Chris also received a VIU REACH Award for this project. The award helps support excellence in student scholarship, research and creative activity, allowing students to complete an independent project under faculty mentorship.

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