Jigyasa Verma

 
Characterisation of novel targets of metabolic acid stress resistance in malignant cells
New Delhi
India
International Tuition Award
 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My long term goal in my research career has been to participate directly in the development of better treatments for currently incurable diseases that plague the world. The projects which I undertook during my Master’s research solidified my goals and interest in aging research. My work was highly independent in nature and equipped me with several vital skills apart from the actual study of the biology of the cell. Familiarity and confidence to execute a research project starting from scratch equipped me for situations which I would have encountered in any research setting. The enigmatic nature of the subject provided me with the impetus to unravel a previously unknown role of an autophagy protein in chromosome segregation and identify a plausible candidate gene for Oro-facial digital syndrome. Driven by my curiosity to unveil the genetics behind life-threatening age-related disorders and my previous research experience convinced me of my inclination towards a career in research and hence I sought graduate training as an important step forward.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Amongst the universities I received an admission offer from, UBC offered the best combination of a supportive advisor, stimulating environment, and a great city to live in. While choosing the group with which I wanted to learn and grow over the next 5 years, I ensured that the lab offers a range of techniques to learn from by choosing a wide-encompassing project having an immediate clinical significance. Also, Canada came across as a peaceful and progressive society which welcomes people of all nationalities and ethnicities. The (Vancouver) campus is in one of the most spectacular regions of the world, providing a temperate climate, safe city and a fairly diverse population-providing a fertile soil to pursue my hobbies of running and hiking. What I also looked for are opportunities for global exchange and interactions in the classroom and beyond. UBC is one of the exemplary universities in being truly international, as the research here is guided not only by faculty from all parts of the world, but the student body is rich in culture too. Graduate Pathways to Success (GPS) and Mitacs provide ample resources and training to develop trainees’ transferable skills.

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

The research avenues offered in the Cellular and Developmental Biology (CELL) program are at the intersection of genetics and disease biology which aligned very well with my interests. For instance, in my PhD project, I am investigating promising novel targets of acid stress in malignant cells. Having worked for almost two years in the Loewen and Roskelley labs, I am confident that the training environment in these labs and the graduate program is ideal to accomplish my research goals and to get the most out of my PhD experience at UBC. The CELL program provides a very collaborative environment to further one’s research. In the past two years, we already have three labs collaborating on my project. One of the aims of the CELL Program is to enhance linkages and facilitate research interactions between the larger community of biologists in British Columbia. Such interactions work like a feedback loop - to appreciate the impact of basic research on translational medicine and to recognise the current limitations. Horizontal teaching and learning make the working environment extremely healthy and instills team-spirit.

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

Rain or shine - nothing stops Vancouverites from running. In spite of having read about it already, I was pleasantly surprised at how close we are to the beach and the hiking trails - so exciting!

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

I am looking forward to making a lot of successful connections-within my brain, joining the dots in research and with the amazing people from various academic and non-academic backgrounds I meet as I go along.

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

Being an international student, it is going to be tough to transition to the industry immediately after completing my graduate studies here at UBC. Without significant industrial internships/experience, it is not very straightforward to convince about credibility.

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

In lab: Both my supervisors provide me with an ideal amount of feedback that keeps my project on track through weekly lab meetings and bi-weekly one-on-one meetings. They are attentive without being restrictive and have been refreshingly open to my input and ideas about the project. The wide spectrum of techniques in which the Loewen and Roskelley labs have expertise, from yeast molecular genetics and cell biology (Loewen Lab) to in vitro and in vivo testing of multiple gene functions in experimental breast cancer models (Roskelley Lab), makes an ideal setting for accomplishing my aim to learn. Mitacs and G+PS workshops: By actively engaging in various workshops organised throughout the year, I see an improvement in my verbal communication, networking, scientific and technical writing, and project management skills. Managerial experience: By getting an opportunity to be an integral part of Faculty of Medicine’s Graduate Student Advisory Group and being a Graduate Student Recruitment Ambassadors at UBC, I see myself as a significant part of the student-voice and feel a sense of empowerment. Industrial Internship: Mitacs offers opportunities to graduate students to engage with industries through its Accelerate Program. For instance, I am a Research Intern at Renaissance BioScience Corp. (RBSC), a leading global yeast technology company based in Vancouver, where I am working towards developing next-generation, systematic tools, and methods for expanding, screening and selecting biodiversity in non-GMO industrial yeast strains.

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

Sports make me resilient, friends and family make me stronger and introspection makes me curious, persistent, hungry and enthusiastic.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I delight myself either with gastronomic experiences or reading biographies. My hobbies also include running, hiking and grooving to the beats of Indian traditional folk songs.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Take graduate school as a training ground for achieving your goals in life and do not miss out on the fun and inquisitiveness in the process. Make sure to pursue your hobbies (and develop new ones).