Over the years, many people have asked me how I got here –that is, to my PhD, and I have wondered the same about others. So, I thought I would share my story, in the off chance that any of you are interested.
As you probably already know, I’m currently a PhD candidate in Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary. But what you may not know is that I’m also visually impaired, and because of this am involved in advocacy work for university students with disabilities and surrounding visual impairment and science.
My path to pursue academic research actually began with my advocacy work as a visually-impaired undergraduate science student at University of British Columbia, and because of my participation in the retinoblastoma community (retinoblastoma is the disease of the eye that I was diagnosed with as a baby). I was asked to give the keynote address at a National Retinoblastoma Society meeting, where I spoke with Dr. Brenda Gallie, a world renowned researcher in the field. I asked her if I could do summer work in her lab; I spent two summers and a fall in Toronto working at the University Health Network/University of Toronto. Her acceptance of my request changed the direction of my life. With employment in her lab my foray into molecular biology and a career in research began.
I had a long-standing interest in environmental biology, and my undergraduate had been largely focused on evolution and ecology. Between summers in Toronto, while back at UBC, I wanted to explore these interests in a more comprehensive way, and took an intensive Biology of Fishes field course at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre. While I was there, I read an paper on collapsing fisheries stocks that shifted my interest in research to the environment, but that also made me realize how I could use molecular biology as a powerful tool to address environmental concerns.
Since then, the time between then and now has been a matter of developing skills that would allow me to bridge molecular and environmental biology. This began with an internship working on a salmon enhancement research project at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, work at the Vancouver Aquarium, my MSc in molecular ecology at UBC, and finally my PhD here at the University of Calgary. And that is where I am at today.
Although my work and interests in Biology have changed over the years, advocacy has been a constant throughout my journey. You can read about some of this on the “visual impairment and science” page of this site.