JennaJenna Friedt

I am in the second year of my Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry

Tell us about yourself

I was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta and completed my B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Biochemistry at the University of Lethbridge before starting my Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Toronto Mississauga. I’m convinced I was born in the wrong era, since I would happily fit in with the bubblegum rockers and girls wearing poodle skirts in the 1950s. But until a time machine is invented, I’m content reading a good book, knitting, or doing crossword puzzles to pass the time.

What is your research about?

Blood transfusions are used to save lives every day, and it's important to test blood samples to be sure that they don’t contain any blood-borne infections that can be passed to the person receiving the transfusion. Some of the tests currently used are expensive and/or time consuming. My research uses yeast, just like what we use to make bread, to make testing blood samples a little bit easier and less expensive. Using special pieces of DNA, we can program yeast to produce proteins that detect disease markers in blood samples and let doctors know whether that blood sample is safe to use for a transfusion.

My favorite part about doing research is brainstorming with others new ways of tackling a challenging question. Sometimes you come up with a crazy, new experiment to try, and you never know if it will be just the thing you need to find the next piece of the research puzzle.
 

What have you enjoyed the most about your research?

Research is all about finding the right questions to ask and coming up with creative ways to help answer those questions. My favorite part about doing research is brainstorming with others new ways of tackling a challenging question. Sometimes you come up with a crazy, new experiment to try, and you never know if it will be just the thing you need to find the next piece of the research puzzle.

What have you found most challenging about your research?

Finding the right question to ask can be very challenging. It’s easy to think of experiments to do, but if the experiment won’t help you answer your original question, then it might be time to go back to the drawing board. You often have to repeat or redesign your experiment multiple times before getting it just right, but this process helps you to see the problem from all angles. It’s all about persistence and commitment!

How has your research experience influenced your career path?

While I really enjoy working in the lab and discussing new science breakthroughs with my colleagues, I know that I would like to pursue a career outside of the laboratory. My volunteer and coordinator work with Let’s Talk Science has showed me how much I love getting others excited about science, and that it’s something I would like to do “when I grow up”. Science is my passion, and I want to share it with you!

How has your research impacted the world?

Some developing countries don’t have the resources (money, trained staff, or facilities) to test blood samples at the same high standards as we do in Canada and other first world countries. Since yeast is very easy and cheap to grow (all you need is sugar water!), a method to test blood samples for disease markers using yeast could help these countries to provide safer hospital care for their citizens.

What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?

My research deals a lot with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which is a scary term for some people. I think one of the biggest hurdles this field will need to overcome is the negative stigma associated with GMOs. There are many worldwide problems that can be tackled using GMOs, and scientists will first need to show that GMOs are safe before the public will see how useful, innovative, and cool they really are.

Actually, you will like to see your own contribution and product after hard work time and exerting great efforts. This is the part I like the best.
 

What motivates you to do research?

In high school and even after I started university, I didn’t really know what it meant to do science research. I started taking opportunities to get experience wherever I could, including joining the Co-op program to get a job in a research lab and by doing independent research studies as part of my undergraduate degree. One of my supervisors was an excellent mentor, and she helped motivate me to pursue my interest in science research and to go after my dreams. It’s important to find people who will support your decisions and encourage you to think big.

Tell us about your 'Eureka' moment

My Eureka moment didn’t happen all at once; it came slowly and gradually, softly tapping me on the back a few times before I turned my head to see it. Science can definitely be like this sometimes, which is why you should never throw away data or an experiment that you think failed! Sometimes you just need to look at it in a new way to find the information it may be hiding. In my case, the “Eureka” tapping me on my back was life, trying to show me what I liked to do the most – science outreach!

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