Cameron Herberts

Using circulating tumour DNA to understand genomic evolution in metastatic prostate cancer
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I was first exposed to cancer genomics through a UBC undergraduate Co-op placement with my current supervisor Dr. Alexander Wyatt. Having just previously done a Co-op work term in (what I felt to be) a rather esoteric physics subfield, I was captivated by the immediate real-world applicability of Dr. Wyatt’s clinical research. With encouragement and support from Dr. Wyatt and his team at the Vancouver Prostate Centre, I was inspired to continue contributing to these clinical projects in the context of a PhD.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

The clinical research network in Vancouver makes it one of the world’s leading sites for translational genomics research. There is a provincial population of ~4 million, all served by a single health care system, offering unique opportunities for correlative genomics research at the population level. Following my undergraduate training, continuing to study cancer genomics in Vancouver – and specifically with the Wyatt lab – was therefore the logical next step.

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

UBC Genome Science and Technology offers a rotation program to select incoming graduate students. In this program, students pursue small-scale research projects in three different laboratories prior to committing to a lab for the remainder of their degree. This program allows students to explore a variety of research disciplines and lab environments, and I am grateful for how this rotation program provided me additional perspective on how other labs approach genomics research.

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

Vancouver is a world-class city that few others manage to beat in terms of proximity to nature.

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

A challenge of academic research is that – unlike classroom or industry work – the ‘successes’ can often feel few and far between. Early exposure to academia during my undergraduate degree helped me adjust my expectations about what graduate research would be like and further helped me develop strategies to maintain productivity despite the research obstacles that every student inevitably encounters.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

Exploring our beautiful province through hiking/backpacking/camping, running, and more recently road-biking – the usual Vancouver clichés!

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

I expect many would answer this question with, “choose a research discipline you are passionate about”. However, I would argue that the relationships you anticipate developing during your graduate training are at least as important (if not more)! Over the course of your two- to five-year degree, you will ultimately spend most of your time interacting with the people in your lab, and it is therefore critical to select a lab whose culture is a good fit for you. Above all, the quality and character of mentorship you will receive should be a critical deciding factor as to which lab you ultimately choose to work in. Will you be mentored directly by the Principal Investigator or other members (e.g. postdocs, senior PhD students)? Are your meetings formal or informal? How often will you meet with your mentor(s) to discuss research progress? How approachable is your mentor(s) if you have a problem (scientific or personal)? Will the mentorship you receive be compatible with your own learning/working preferences? Are the members of the lab people you’d be excited to work with and learn from on a daily basis? Talk to past and present lab members and ask about their perspectives!


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