Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
It seems so cliché now, but I really did grow up with a curiosity for nature and how things worked that was fostered by my dad, who is a biologist. I had always been interested in science, but my drive to pursue Alzheimer's disease research was sparked when I was volunteering at a nursing home where my mum worked, and I found out that we actually don't know much about the devastating disease or what causes it. Feeling driven to find some answers, I set out on a path to eventually pursue dementia research when I was in high school, and that path led me here.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
A lot of my extended family lives on Vancouver Island, and I'd spend 1-2 weeks every summer visiting them when I was growing up. Coming from a small town in Ontario, I was always amazed by the mountains and ocean (and lack of snow!) on the West Coast and knew that someday I wanted to live here. While the mountains and ocean have their own desirable pull, I knew that for a long PhD program, I had to choose a lab that aligned with my research interests rather than making my choice based on the location of the institution. I was lucky enough to stumble across Dr. Wellington's work in my search for a graduate research direction, and her research focuses on understanding how risk factors feed into the development of Alzheimer disease--especially through affecting the blood vessels--aligned with my own interests that I had developed during my undergraduate training. The stars really aligned for me with a suitable lab at my dream institution.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
The diversity of research going on in the Pathology and Lab Medicine program was a strong selling point for me. With a focus on understanding pathology in general - and common mechanisms underlying different types of pathology - I feel that I developed a better understanding of disease than I might have in a different program. There are also many unique opportunities to interact with mentors in different positions (basic scientists, clinicians, clinical chemists), which has really broadened my ideas of potential career paths following my graduate training. The Pathology and Lab Medicine program is also fairly small, and having such a tightly-knit cohort has been great for learning more about different fields of research and different techniques that may be applicable to my own work.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
Life in Vancouver is better than I ever imagined. It really clicked for me when I realized I could kayak, bike, and ski on the same day--all within an hour's drive from my house! There are so many things to do here, whether you're someone who loves nature or someone who loves the feeling of a big city, it really is the best of both worlds.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
I see effective communication as a huge challenge in any science-related career; not only disseminating findings to the "general public," but also the communication of research between scientists. These problems have really been highlighted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now in an era where there is no shortage of data or information out there, and a big hurdle for researchers is actually staying up to date with all of the science being churned out each day, and being aware of all that has already been done. Finding new ways to communicate science in a way that's easily digestible and remembered by both other scientists and the general public will be critical moving forward. I think that more work into effective graphic design, and animations will likely feed into this new era of science communication.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
Seeking out every opportunity to get research experience prior to jumping into graduate school was hugely important in preparing me to succeed. I did several summer internships throughout my undergrad at Carleton University, which enabled me to publish three papers before entering graduate school. Having this kind of experience and publication record under my belt played a major role in securing funding for my graduate studies, and mentally prepared me for the ups and downs of being on the "cutting edge" of research.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
Recently, I've been into backcountry camping, road biking, and crab fishing from my kayak. I also love to garden, cook, and make art from flowers. I also love hanging out with my seven roommates (yes... seven--housing prices truly are crazy in Vancouver).
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Choose a research project that you're interested in, and a mentor that can support you both intellectually, and through the bumpy transition from a very defined undergraduate degree into graduate school. Grad school is tough, and imposter syndrome is real--even for those of us who seem like we've got it all together. Be kind to yourself through the transition, and make sure to take time for yourself to do the things that you enjoy outside of your academic work. Always remember that your self-worth is separate from the progress or direction of your project in graduate school and that while times will be tough, you've earned your way into this position and you do belong here. Reach out to other graduate students during the hard times, because we're all muddling through this together! Also, don't be afraid to take a break between degrees. Looking back, I partially wish I took more than four months off between my undergraduate and PhD programs to mentally reset and curb burnout. It can also be great to work for a while as a technician or in another research-related role prior to your graduate program, to gain a better understanding and appreciation for research, so you can hit the ground running when you do start!