Shawn Shortill

Investigating the roles of a novel VPS9-domain GEF complex in membrane tethering and transport
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I have always been fascinated by how things assemble to perform tasks, spending countless hours playing with LEGO as a kid. A series of important mentors in my life slowly shaped that curiosity into a love for biology and eventually cellular and molecular genetics. Naturally, the opportunity to make some of these discoveries for myself was extremely tantalizing.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

The BC lower mainland and Vancouver Island have always been my home. I grew up exploring the beaches and forests here, and received my education at Camosun College and the University of Victoria in BC. Apart from being a global leader in producing impactful research, UBC has a clear choice for me because it allowed me to stay close to the people and places that I love.

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

I love the idea that studying the fine molecular details of a cell can eventually lead to a deep understanding of human diseases that stem from malfunctions in cellular processes. Armed with that understanding, clinicians and medicinal chemists can make transformative treatment choices to truly help people cope with disease. The Medical Genetics department blends these two concepts perfectly.

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

How easy it is to explore safely on a bike! There are so many protected bike lanes and beautiful seaside biking trails, it has really motivated me to stay in shape and explore some really cool places around the city. Also, the fact that you don't have to sacrifice a connection with nature for the big-city life in Vancouver is a huge bonus.

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I am really looking forward to travelling for a conference. The opportunity to meet people from other continents that are asking the same questions and performing the same types of experiments as me is really cool! Hopefully we can teach each other something when we finally get to meet.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

The academic sector has been blessed to have so many talented, brilliant people applying for faculty positions, yet this creates a very competitive job market. Finding a way to distinguish myself from my cohort of impressive colleagues is something that I strive for.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

Opportunities like career workshops and networking seminars are always advertising well and offered frequently. Collaborations between researchers is common in the Medical Genetics department, and with our new graduate students' society the MGGSA, sharing ideas with other trainees has been a big help too.

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

I owe so much of who I am today to my mentors at both Camosun College and UVic. Without the support and investment I received from them, I would have neither the skills, knowledge or confidence to achieve the things that I have so far. My successes should really be credited to a large group of remarkable researchers and instructors that got me here.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I love to bike around the city when it's nice out, and I play the guitar to de-stress when it rains. A hot cup of coffee and some vinyl jazz is a perfect way for me to lose the tension and ease back a bit as well.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Stay creative and curious. It's what first prompted you to pursue higher education, don't lose sight of those feelings in the maelstrom of deadlines, expectations, publications, conferences and courses. There will always be hurdles and expectations, so find happiness in the underlying research or art that you are engaging with.


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