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Becca Franks

Becca Franks comes to UBC from Rochester, New York, and began her postdoctoral fellowship in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems’ Animal Welfare Program in 2014 under the supervision of Daniel Weary. In addition to receiving the Killam PDF Research Prize, Franks is a recipient of the prestigious Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

Picture for Becca Franks
Home town
New York
United States
Land and Food Systems
Daniel Weary
Year PDF started

Research Description

I am interested in fundamental patterns of motivation and well-being across species. Beyond the drive to acquire food, water, and shelter, species across the Animal Kingdom show the desire to have control over and learn about their world. I am currently working to determine whether fish, like mammals and birds, are driven to use their sophisticated cognitive skills—e.g. learning and problem-solving—and whether engaging in such activities might improve their well-being and social relationships.

Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?

I decided to pursue postgraduate work at UBC because it is home to the world-famous Animal Welfare Program, led by three exceptional professors: Dan Weary, Nina von Keyserlingk, and David Fraser. They have each made unique and lasting contributions to the field, but beyond this, they are ideal mentors, providing unwavering support and expert guidance to their students. I was also attracted to the beautiful UBC campus and its international reputation for being a place of outstanding scholarship and research.

What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?

I would advise new postdocs coming to UBC/Canada to make sure to take advantage of the beautiful woods and beaches in and around Vancouver.  It is great live in a place where you can enjoy the bustle of city life while being steps away from the tranquility of a forest.  I have found that biking around the city is the most convenient, but be sure to also check out the public transportation, which can take you to unexpectedly wild places like Lynn Valley Park.  New postdocs should also plan on availing themselves of wonderful scholastic environment of UBC itself, which, in addition to its stellar in-house academics, also hosts a myriad of international events, talks, and symposiums across disciplines. 

What does receiving this award mean for your career?

Winning the Killam award has been a great honor.  The Killam name is synonymous with exceptional scholarship and research for the greater good.  As such, it has validated the importance of my scientific approach.  I’m passionate about the work that I do and hope that it contributes to our ability to maximize our relationship with other animals while also minimizing human-animal conflicts.  I think one of the best ways to achieve these aims is through science and improving our understanding of individual animals, many of whom are quite different from us yet share our basic desires (e.g. to act with intention, live a fulfilling life, and connect with others).  This award thus encourages me to continue working towards these goals. 

What do you hope to accomplish with your current work?

With my current work I hope to promote our understanding and appreciation of fish and the fascinating lives that they lead. I think that by carefully researching the behavioral and social dynamics of fish held in semi-natural environments, we can gain insights into a vastly different way of being an animal on this planet. At the same time, we can also uncover fundamental similarities that exist across species. For example, until now, we had relatively little information about the cognitive sophistication and complex lives of fish, which, through scientific study, we now know to be comparable to that of land animals. I hope that my research will contribute to this growing body of literature and thereby enrich our appreciation for all animal life.

What research related or academic event coming up in the near future are you most excited about?

I am most excited to attend and present at the 50th Anniversary meeting of the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE), which is being held in Edinburgh, UK. The ISAE is the foremost society for animal welfare science. This meeting will bring together all the top scientists in the field for 4 days of parallel sessions on diverse and exciting topics including "Consciousness, cognition and emotion" and "Positive welfare."

For you, what was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

The best surprise about UBC and Vancouver is how beautiful the campus and city are.  I love that I see bald eagles on my way to work more often than not.  The natural beauty of this part of the world is simply spectacular.