Students Using CurioCity

Mira Okshevsky

Third year PhD student in Microbiology

Tell us about yourself

I was born in Toronto and grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland. In High School my favorite classes were Art and English. Right now I live in Aarhus, Demark. I love to travel, learn about new cultures, and eat exotic food! Here in Denmark I like to spend time outside exploring the forests and beaches, and I make an attempt to container-garden on the small terrace of my apartment.

What is your research about?

My research is about bacteria (maybe you’d call them “germs”), and how they stick to surfaces in communities called biofilms. Bacteria sometimes swim in liquid, but they like to settle down and attach to surfaces. When attached, they multiply and produce sticky substances to cover themselves with. The result is a biofilm, and they are very common. The scum around the drain of a sink? That’s a biofilm! The mossy feeling your teeth get when you haven’t brushed them for a while? That’s a biofilm on your teeth!

What have you enjoyed the most about your research?

Choosing to do research has allowed me to travel. After my Bachelors degree in Newfoundland I attended a Masters program in Germany. Now I am doing my PhD in Denmark. Besides travel, I enjoy the freedom to structure my own time, and the large variety of things I do each day. I conduct experiments in the lab, write up results, make figures and illustrations, teach classes, and introduce new students to the techniques we use in our lab.

What have you found most challenging about your research?

It can be very frustrating when an experiment fails, but troubleshooting to determine what went wrong is an important part of the job. Often, an experiment fails because the underlying hypothesis was wrong. And that’s ok! Finding out what isn’t true is a step on the way to finding the truth.

How has your research experience influenced your career path?

I am enjoying my current research so much that I'm convinced I want to pursue an academic career. I love to design experiments, and think about what the results mean. Sometimes doing research feels like pulling back the invisible curtain on nature and going "Ah! So that's how it works!"

How has your research impacted the world?

Biofilms cause big problems when they form inside the human body. A biofilm is a thousand times more resistant to antibiotics than free-swimming bacteria are. The concentration of antibiotic needed to kill a biofilm would actually kill the patient before it killed the bacteria. Biofilms are also problematic in food processing environments because they continually seed bacteria into the food being processed. And nobody likes to get food poisoning! We are looking for better ways to treat biofilms in the human body and remove them from food processing surfaces.

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

Chronic infections are currenty treated with surgery or long-term antibiotic therapy. Neither are ideal solutions. Scientists are working on ways to specifically target biofilm infections within the human body. A reliable medical treatment for biofilms could be the next big breakthrough.

What motivates you to do research?

When I was in High School, I didn't know what I wanted my career to be, but I never imagined it would be scientific research. My favorite subjects were Art and English, and I actually went to Art School for a year before deciding it wasn't for me. The Introduction to Biology course I took during my first year of university began to motivate me to study science, and my first Microbiology class sealed the deal. Now I am motivated by the satisfaction of discovering things which were previously unknown.

Tell us about your 'Eureka' moment

The first time I published a scientific paper, I realized that all the work that I had done in the lab, the months and months of work, was just the beginning of the story! How you present your results is just as important as what those results are. That was when I became interested in scientific communication. After all, if nobody knows about (or understands) your research, what was the point in doing it? Writing up and illustrating my results to make sure they are clear and accessible to a wide audience, is now one of my favorite parts of doing research.

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