Shayda Swann

Investigating the role of reproductive hormones in healthy aging for women living with HIV: A community-collaborative cohort study
Helene Cote, Melanie Murray
United States of America
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I caught the research bug during my undergraduate years and couldn't seem to shake it, even after starting my medical degree at UBC. I decided to transfer into the MD/PhD program because I became captivated with the idea that I could have a career where my research can directly inform my medical practice, and my patients could guide my research requestions. I also loved the idea that while I can help a small number of people directly as a physician, I can also help countless more with research. Pursuing a clinician-scientist path also seemed like an ideal way to merge my passion for science with my desire to improve health at the individual level.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I wanted to study at UBC quite simply because I wanted to achieve a world-class education at a stunningly beautiful location. I was also attracted to UBC because of it’s reputation for putting forth ground-breaking HIV research. Vancouver is home to Oak Tree Clinic, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and numerous other community and clinical organizations that have changed the way we do HIV research and health care on a global scale. I also wanted to stay close to family and supports that made staying Vancouver all the more special.

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

The timeline of the MD/PhD program at UBC was very attractive to me. Most graduate programs can take up to 7 years, whereas with this program I’m able to complete both a medical degree and PhD in that same time span. The program here at UBC also offers tons of supports for students, including a monthly seminar series, annual meetings with the program director, and support for obtaining external funding. Our program also boasts quite an impressive track-record for prestigious awards, like Vanier and CGS-D, and graduates from this program are highly successful in achieving both their research and career goals. I also appreciated that the program gave me a great deal of flexibility in choosing a project that was most aligned with my research interests.

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

I love that I can walk five minutes in one direction and be at the ocean, or walk ten minutes in the other direction and be in the forest. It's also a short drive to downtown for a taste of the city or a hike in the mountains.

I wanted to study at UBC because of it’s reputation for putting forth ground-breaking HIV research. Our program also boasts quite an impressive track-record for prestigious awards, and graduates from this program are highly successful in achieving both their research and career goals
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

What I enjoy most is the opportunity to work with and learn from leaders in the community. For example, my research team includes two Indigenous Elders and four women living with HIV who work on our study as peer research associates. It has been such an immense honor to learn from and work with these incredible women. On a similar thread, I am looking forward to working with our community team members to breaking down the misconception that basic and clinical science can't also be community-based.

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

Unfortunately, I'm well aware that as a women in science I am less likely to receive competitive funding or high level academic positions compared to my male colleagues (Status of Women Committee. Achieving Pay Equity for UBC Faculty Women. Vancouver; 2011). I hope that we continue to address systems of injustice that prevent women from achieving their highest potentials in this field. I also know that balancing both clinical and research demands as a clinician-scientist can be incredibly challenging. However, I'm very fortunate to have my supervisor as an example of someone who can wear these two hats and still thrive in this field.

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

Our program puts on a fantastic monthly seminar series where we are able to hear about the experiences of successful clinician-scientists and how they are able to navigate these equally demanding roles. It's always very inspiring to hear the different and creative ways that people balance their clinical and research practices. The MD/PhD program also encourages mentorship between current students and alumni, which allows students to discuss current challenges in the program and see how others have built a successful career.

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

I was raised in the Baha'i faith, which places a very strong emphasis on the education of all children, especially women and girls. Currently, Baha'is in Iran, where my family is from, are systematically barred from pursuing any form of higher education. This has given me an even deeper appreciation of my own freedom to go to graduate school without fear of persecution and has galvanized my passion for learning. I am also very fortunate to be raised by parents who have given me endless support for my educational goals and continue to inspire me every day.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I dance every day, both for fun and also out of compulsion. When the weather is nice, I love getting outdoor and being active, like running or cycling. To relax, I enjoy cuddling up on the couch with a good book and my sweet little blind cat Fergie.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Take all the time you have to find a great supervisor. I spoke to several potential supervisors before choosing to work with Dr. Murray and Dr. Cote, and I couldn't be more grateful for my pickiness. Taking the time to find a supervisor who not only supports your research work, but also cares about your development as a young scientist is incredibly important and has made all the difference in my own training. I would argue that a good supervisor is even more important than an interesting project.


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