Jennifer Cooper

Blood based biomarkers of neurodegeneration across the health spectrum
Cheryl Lea Wellington
CIHR Doctoral Research Awards
Alzheimer’s Society of Canada ASRP Doctoral Award
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

While completing my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate enough to work in a few different research labs. This experience allowed me to see firsthand what it was like to be in an academic research environment. I enjoyed the fast-paced working environment that challenged me to think critically and problem-solve on a regular basis. One of the labs I worked in during my undergraduate degree as a directed studies student is actually the lab where I am currently conducting my graduate degree as well. I found the work they were doing incredibly exciting, as I could see the real-world, clinical implications their research had. In this environment, I was able to figure out that I wanted to go forward with graduate school and develop the basis for a thesis project that aligned with my research interests.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I originally decided to study at UBC for my undergraduate degree mostly due to proximity to my hometown. However, during my time in undergrad, I was able to gain a greater appreciation for UBC which encouraged me to want to stay at this institution for my graduate studies. A major component of this was the supportive community of students, faculty, and staff I had been able to surround myself with through my undergrad. I was able to find an environment that fostered and enabled my research interests at UBC which made me want to stay at the university.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

In the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine program, I was initially drawn to the lab medicine portion. Though many people who go into medical research are motivated by the prospect of helping to cure diseases, I was more fascinated by the diagnostic side of things. I think it is incredibly important to enable the improvement of disease treatment through improved diagnosis and screening of disease that can ensure proper and timely treatment. The other thing I have come to enjoy about the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine program is the diversity of research the program has. This allows students to be able to interact with other researchers who work on completely different body systems, aspects of disease, and techniques, which allows them to gain a broader perspective.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

Being from the greater Vancouver area originally, I can't say much has surprised me about the city. When it comes to UBC, I would say my biggest surprise has typically been how fortunate I was to essentially come to UBC out of the convenience of location. It is something you take for granted when growing up near a top institution and how great it can be, but it makes me constantly feel grateful hearing how many people tell me they traveled here to experience all of this at UBC.

I was able to find an environment that fostered and enabled my research interests at UBC which made me want to stay at the university.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

One of the things I have found I really enjoy is research dissemination and communication. This was something that really surprised me as going into grad school I was originally most excited about some of the more core components of research, and I was always quite shy when it came to public speaking. However, I have found recently that being able to present or speak about my research with groups of people eager to engage with questions and feedback has been one of the most enjoyable parts of grad school. Anything from presenting at conferences with a highly specialized scientific audience to just chats with friends and family giving them a lay rundown of a scientific topic, has brought me a great sense of enjoyment and accomplishment.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

One thing that I always tell new or prospective graduate students is that your proficiency in undergrad courses and ability to perform well on academic tests will have minimal bearing on your success in grad school. What makes a difference is having life experiences that strengthen your abilities to problem solve on your feet, be flexible to change, and take initiative. For me these skills have mostly come from prior work experience both in and outside of science/academia. I was able to both learn and reinforce these skills that I have used continuously through all aspects of grad school on an almost daily basis.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Grad school is a roller coaster with some really intense highs and lows. I think one of the most important things you should do in grad school is to build up a network of people who can support you through the lows and celebrate the highs with you. A large part of success in grad school is being resilient to these ups and downs, but it is always easier to do this when you have a strong support system. I think it's important to find people both inside and outside your immediate working environment that you can connect with to get a variety of perspectives. Finding a mentor in a student or a postdoc who recently went through the same experiences can also be one of the most helpful things to give you guidance on day-to-day challenges.


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