Samantha Schaffner

UBC graduate student Samantha Schaffner
DNA Methylation as a Mediator of Individual Differences in Parkinson's Disease Susceptibility
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I fell in love with science in high school and was interested in research throughout my undergraduate degree. I had the opportunity to work in several academic labs and in industry during my BSc, both locally and internationally, but each of these projects was a year or less. By the time I graduated, I was eager to pursue my own research project at greater depth, and to further explore my passion for epigenetics! Additionally, I see my pursuit of graduate studies as a personal challenge and an opportunity for growth - to develop my skills in learning, planning, collaboration, and project management.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I had an amazing undergraduate experience at UBC and I love living in Vancouver. The UBC community is so rich in diversity and opportunity. It was also very important to me to pursue my PhD at one of Canada's top academic institutions and to find a program and supervisor that fit my interests well and excited me. The Medical Genetics program at UBC really attracted me due to its hotspot of epigenetics researchers.

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

I was naturally drawn to the Medical Genetics program even when looking through their undergraduate-level courses; the subject material was just so intriguing in every aspect! I love how Medical Genetics encompasses everything from basic model organism research to high dimensional bioinformatics to genetic counselling and clinicians. Specialists at all these levels are needed to understand how genetics works and how it affects our everyday lives and society. In the Medical Genetics program, I am able to learn a wide breadth of knowledge and interact with a diverse and passionate group of researchers.

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

As someone who has lived in Vancouver since I was a young kid, I initially thought I might be limiting myself by attending UBC instead of a school in another province. The truth was the opposite; throughout my studies here, I have met so many interesting people from across Canada and the world! Additionally, I've had the opportunity to travel abroad on volunteering trips, co-op, and to work with international collaborators for my graduate studies. I also feel very lucky to be able to network and form personal relationships with some of the foundational researchers in my field, right here at UBC.

The UBC community is so rich in diversity and opportunity. It was also very important to me to pursue my PhD at one of Canada's top academic institutions and to find a program and supervisor that fit my interests well and excited me.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

I built a solid foundation of research skills during my undergraduate degree by taking on Work Learn jobs, co-op jobs, and completing an Honours thesis. I made it my goal to expose myself to as diverse a range of research settings as possible. Along the way, I grew very motivated and independent, which allowed me to learn more quickly in my graduate studies. Additionally, volunteering with UBC Students Offering Support (SOS), a club dedicated to raising money for development projects through student-led exam sessions, really contributed to my confidence and personal growth. Through SOS I helped advertise our exam sessions to large classrooms and I managed several teams responsible for specific course materials. Now I have the confidence to make scientific presentations to large audiences, and experience in team/project management!

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I love exploring hiking trails in the summer and cooking new dishes year-round. I've really been inspired by Asian cooking lately, due to all the awesome food in Vancouver and a recent trip to Thailand.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Graduate school on the surface might seem easier than undergrad - there are far less exams, classes, and materials to memorize. The real challenge comes outside of the classroom when you are learning to manage your research projects, your time, and your relationships. My advice is to build a great support network of friends/colleagues, and talk with them if you are experiencing any stress - chances are, they have felt the same way! Also, try to maintain a hobby and/or exercise routine, which will do wonders for your mental health.


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