Tell us about yourself
I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and moved to London, Ontario in my childhood. I took advantage of the opportunity to attend University to see different cities in Canada - I spent 4 years in Montreal, 2 in Hamilton, and now I've returned back to London. When I'm not doing science, I enjoy spending time outdoors cycling or hiking, travelling, and gardening.
What is your research about?
I study the biology of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus creates tremendous burden on health care systems in Canada and around the world. It is associated with significant human infectious morbidity and mortality, and there is currently an urgent need for new antistaphylococcal drugs. My research is focused on identifying how Staphylococcus aureus gets the nutrients it needs to grow, and what happens during an infection when it's not able to get these nutrients.
What have you enjoyed the most about your research?
My favourite part about research is analyzing data. A lot of time in research is spent on designing the proper experiments to test your idea. When the data is finally collected and ready to analyze, you get to find out if there is evidence to support your idea. It's an exciting moment, and it almost always brings up new questions and ideas. I also enjoy travelling to scientific conferences to present my research. You get to connect with people that work in your area and you can share thoughts and ideas. Not to mention, you get to visit a new city!
“I've found myself surrounded by people that appreciate the complexity of the world around us and are driven by curiosity”
What have you found most challenging about your research?
Every experiment performed provides one piece to a larger puzzle that helps to understand a problem. Sometimes the pieces don't fit or you're missing that last piece, and it can be a challenging puzzle to solve. You need to have the motivation to continue hunting for all the pieces, but also recognize that sometimes you can't find them all. It's a slow process, but it's rewarding when the picture starts to come together.
How has your research experience influenced your career path?
I've worked in several different labs now, each a unique environment, but in every case I've found myself surrounded by people that appreciate the complexity of the world around us and are driven by curiosity. I'm not sure exactly what career path I'll take after I complete my PhD, but as long as I continue to be surrounded by people that value the scientific process I think I'll be happy.
How has your research impacted the world?
The number of infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus is increasing at an alarming rate. This is partly because new strains emerge and also because Staphylococcus aureus has developed resistance to most of the antibiotics we have available to treat infections, so there is an urgent need for new antibiotics. If we can identify a pathway that Staphylococcus aureus needs to grow, it might be possible to target it with a drug to treat an infection.
What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?
Ultimately, the best way to prevent future Staphylococcus aureus infections is to produce a vaccine. This has been particularly challenging because scientists don't fully understand what type of immune response is needed to clear an infection, so we don't know what type of vaccine to create. In the future, I hope to see a breakthrough in vaccine design to target Staphylococcus aureus infections. It would be a major life saver around the world.
What motivates you to do research?
I got bit by the science bug in high school Biology class. I loved learning how things like DNA, photosynthesis, and the immune system worked and found myself wanting to get deeper into the details. I didn't realize this at the time, but this curiosity translated well into research. I conducted a research project in undergrad and found I enjoyed lab work over studying in the library, so I decided to continue with it. I was fortunate that my research supervisors were also great mentors. Their encouragement is why I chose to pursue graduate school.
Tell us about your 'Eureka' moment
When I studied Microbiology in undergrad, we learned mostly about the "bad" bacteria, the ones that cause infections. When I started to look into graduate school, I came across a lab that looked at not only the bad bacteria, but also the overwhelming number of "good" bacteria that reside in and on the human body. At that time, the “good” bacteria were just beginning to be recognized for their importance in our health. It opened my eyes to how new areas of research emerge as we apply new tools and discover new things. There are always new questions waiting to be asked.