Alumnus, PhD (2014), Molecular Genetics
“I am interested in viruses existing in nature that specifically infect bacteria.”
I am from London, Ontario and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo. Originally, I was in a program that combined studies in biotechnology with chartered accounting.
In the co-op program, I worked at an accounting firm and then at a virology laboratory. It became clear where I wanted to spend my life. In second year, I transferred into the biology program with a specialization in microbiology.
I study a bacterial pathogen called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is highly resistant to antibiotics and causes a number of hard-to-treat infections. I am interested in viruses (called phages) existing in nature that specifically infect bacteria. I am exploring the fundamental molecular biology and genetics of phages to understand the factors that determine whether they will successfully infect a given bacteria.
We hope this knowledge will allow the medical community to use phages as a therapeutic — something already being done in other parts of the world — either as an alternative to traditional antibiotics or in combination with them.
Towards the end of my undergraduate studies, I knew that I wanted to conduct research in microbiology. Through multiple trips to Toronto to interview with prospective supervisors, I found a number of laboratories conducting research which appealed to me. The University of Toronto’s stellar reputation for biological research made it the ideal place to study. Furthermore, the Department of Molecular Genetics is internationally recognized for its strong faculty with expertise spanning many fields.
The most enjoyable aspect of conducting research here has been the strong connections I have formed with fellow graduate students and faculty. In my own work, I have an excellent relationship with my supervisor, which allows for a two-way flow of ideas and discussions. I have also made many amazing connections with fellow graduate students, including meeting my wife!
After graduate school, I hope to undertake a postdoctoral fellowship, most likely in the U.S. This presents an opportunity to conduct exciting research and to explore a new field of science while learning new techniques and skills from an elite scientist at a world-renowned institution. My ultimate goal is to pursue discovery-based research as an independent investigator.
Graduate studies at U of T offers many options; it is paramount that students find a field and lab that is right for them. This is common advice but is easier said than done.
In the biomedical sciences, it is important for prospective students to review papers published by a lab and consider whether this is work they could see themselves doing.
It is also important to meet with the prospective supervisors to observe whether they click with each other and to ask about the direction of the lab and the kinds of projects available.
Finally, speak with lab students about their level of satisfaction with the supervision, the projects, and the lab workspace; this is an essential step to finding the right fit.
A common misconception among prospective students is that they have to arrive at the lab with ideas and a plan for the project. The ability to come up with ideas and good experiments will come once the student is working in the lab on an assigned project and familiarizing themselves with the literature. It is at that point students can start to become independent and come up with exciting ideas of their own to test in the lab.
See Faculty of Medicine story, “U of T Student Lands Sandler Fellowship in U.S.“