Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I learned early on that I loved to ask questions. Doing a graduate degree allows me to imagine the endless possibilities in our world, to ask the questions others have not thought of asking, and to find ways to systematically answer those questions. I see a PhD as privilege, opportunity, and a period of remarkable personal growth. It is my hope that the questions I ask and the answers I find can make life better for the people around me. It is one of my way of giving back to the community.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
I came to UBC in 2011 to work full-time in Prof. Adele Diamond’s lab. I had gotten in touch with her when I had freshly graduated with my BSc and she had flown me out for an interview and subsequently created a position for me. I am fortunate that Prof. Diamond, now my graduate supervisor, supports my goals, learning, and growth as a scientist. My relationship with her has evolved over the years from the different hats I wear (research technician; lab manager; PhD student). Our commitment to doing the best work we can, however, has not changed. As human research takes a long time, I decided to apply to UBC so that I could see the studies I helped start and develop through to completion and build on the relationship I already had with Prof. Diamond. Plus, our lab has a lab(radoodle)! Nothing beats going to the lab and getting cuddles from a furry friend while you read, write, and sometimes fume.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
One of the things that really attracted me to the Neuroscience program was the commitment of the (now immediate past) program chair, Prof. Timothy O’Connor. I had contacted him in 2012 asking for advice about applying to the program and my suitability for graduate work. His prompt responsiveness to a potential applicant, openness to discussion, and willingness to sit down and help me with fellowship applications before I even applied was a big deciding factor in my decision to apply. I’m happy to say that Prof. O’Connor continued to be an invaluable source of support after I started and that our current program chair (Prof. Liisa Galea) has continued this tradition. I was lucky to have realised early on that succeeding in a PhD program was more than just your supervisor and lab. The support you will get from your program, faculty, and staff also make a huge difference. And it was that support that kept me at UBC.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
That UBC is its own city with a vibrant, diverse, and quirky community that drinks a lot of coffee.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learnt since starting my program is the importance of having mentors. I appreciate that the faculty have been receptive to mentorship and generous in giving their time. Knowing that you don’t know and knowing where to ask for help is very important. This is where having mentors help: mentors who will advocate for you, cheer you on, challenge you, give you perspective, and keep you grounded as you grow as a person and academic. I am happy and grateful that I found that in my faculty and program, and look forward to learning more from this amazingly dynamic and interdisciplinary group of scholars and their trainees.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
Becoming competitive for an academic career and remaining competitive for job security (read: tenure) in an increasingly difficult job market where funding is tenuous. Women and minorities also face unique challenges in a highly competitive field like academia: retention in the field, unconscious bias (e.g., indicators of excellence, use of stereotypical adjectives in letters, etc.), lack of female role models in higher positions, gender pay gaps, and striking a work-life balance. I am aware these are challenges I have to face and surmount if I were to survive and thrive in this field. Being aware, however, is only step one. Doing it is another matter.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
A career in academia requires more than just doing good research. It also requires scientists to be good academic citizens who contribute to the lifeblood of the field through teaching, mentoring, engaging, and serving. I appreciate that my program allows me the flexibility to challenge myself and plan my own path towards my career. For example, I serve on UBC’s Clinical Research Ethics Board. I am learning about service to the research community and about research processes in the field by getting actual hands-on experience. The Neuroscience program also hosts weekly colloquia with experts who come and speak about a diverse range of topics in Neuroscience. These colloquia are followed by speakers having lunch with the trainees. I think (I hope!) the freedom to plan my path, challenge myself as a trainee, and meet and work alongside some of the best minds will help prepare me for increasing responsibilities in the future.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
I took time off between high school and my undergraduate degree, and then again between my undergraduate degree and applying to graduate school. This allowed me to travel, explore diverse cultures and meet different people, volunteer full-time in the community via a gap year, work full-time in research in my area of interest, and learn more about my interests, strengths, and weakness. I had also gone to a primarily undergraduate university, Trent University, for my BSc. At Trent, undergraduates work closely in the lab with faculty very early on, and the experience was invaluable. Going into the program with life experience, lab skills, self-awareness, and a strong sense of reality about academia definitely helped tremendously.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
Binge-watch Marvel and DC movies, read children’s books and mythology, doodle, colour, swim, cuddle babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, obsess about the colour purple, jump on the trampoline, walk my supervisor’s dog, cook, bake, and eat.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
It is not a weakness to ask for help. A PhD is a challenging and difficult decathlon where you will fail more times than you can imagine. I would also note that science doesn’t progress if our hypotheses always pan out and the only thing we learnt is that we were right. It is only when we are wrong that we learn something new. And learning how to pick yourself up each time you were wrong or failed will serve you well in life. Finally, apply to every funding opportunity you find! You might not get it, but if you don’t throw your hat in the ring, you will definitely receive nothing.