Meet Chloe Graham:
Chloe Graham is currently completing her PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph, studying the function and behaviour of the leopard gecko brain after injury. Chloe has a unique academic and extra-curricular journey at U of G, having graduated from her Bachelor of Science in 2019, moving straight into an MSc and transferring in F20 to a PhD program working with Dr. Vickaryous. Throughout her time at the University of Guelph, Chloe has been involved in several extra-curriculars including volunteering for Oxfam, Let's Talk Science, and the Canadian Association for Research in Regenerative Medicine (CARRM). Chloe is an inspirational Woman in Science, and provides advice to other Women and Girls in Science on how to stay motivated and feel supported in the field, how to strike a work/life balance, and how it's never too late to get involved at U of G.
Tell us about your research and your academic U of G journey!
I completed my Bachelor of Science in Bio-medical Science in April 2019 with the initial goal of heading to medical school. However, after completing an undergraduate research project in the lab of Dr. Vickaryous (Biomedical Sciences), I realized a passion for academia (and leopard geckos!). Only through graduate studies have I sharpened my ability to think critically to troubleshoot a problem or identify a study “gap” and potential area of research.
What is your PhD research?
After my Bachelor of Science, I was excited to return to Dr. Vickaryous’ lab as an MSc student in F19. This past Fall, I completed a transfer to the PhD program in order to expand my project. Previous work in our lab by Rebecca McDonald and Laura Austin demonstrated that the leopard gecko can create new neurons in their brain and can use this ability to actually restore structure after a brain injury! My PhD project will investigate, after injury and regeneration of the neurons, whether the brain will restore normal function and behaviour.
What does a "typical day in the field" look like for you?
Things have been looking a bit different this year with COVID-19. Normally, the entire Vickaryous lab will start the day with a group coffee run to get updated on other lab members’ projects and then I will either get to work on my experiments or get caught up on literature. Lately, with the work-from-home setting, I’ve been diving into the literature to prepare for my qualifying examination, which is the first big “test” as a PhD student. It can be a nerve-wracking process but I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive advisor and labmates with me along the way!
How do you balance PhD life with your personal life? Do you have advice for anyone following a similar academic path as you?
I think that trying to establish both a healthy work/life balance as well as practicing healthy stress coping mechanisms are both key to success in grad school (well, any career for that matter!). I try to plan realistic timelines and work days for myself ahead of time to hopefully keep myself from feeling stressed. I also make time every day to get some exercise, whether it’s going to the gym (in non-COVID times) or getting outside for a walk!
What is CARRM and how were you involved with it?
In my 3rd and 4th year of undergrad, I was a member of the University of Guelph branch of the Canadian Association for Research in Regenerative Medicine (CARRM). Here, I helped co-coordinate our annual StemCellTalks symposiums, where University of Guelph professors present their research in stem cell/regenerative biology topics to Guelph high-school students. There can definitely be a divide between academic research and the general population, so it was really exciting to have a role in bridging that gap while also promoting careers in academia and research to high school students! It was through planning this symposium that I was introduced to Dr. Vickaryous and the research that went on in the Vickaryous lab!
What would your advice be to any Women and Girls in Science?
My advice would be to find an incredible female role model in science and never let them go! This could be a peer, labmate or professor. For me, this has been my labmate Kathy Jacyniak who trained me in my undergraduate project and has been there along the journey to my PhD, patiently supporting me through difficulties. Having a close mentor in your life like Kathy that is a positive image of a successful, kind and intelligent woman in STEM inspires you and reveals a tangible path to your career goals. Along your path, don’t forget to turn around and help someone else along with you! If you can act as a positive female role model, make it a priority to be that person for someone else.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
It’s never too late to get involved! When I developed an interest in academia in fourth year, I remember feeling as though it was too late to pursue this goal as I had no prior research experience. However, U of G does a great job of providing opportunities to get experience either through your studies, like the fourth-year undergraduate research course, or through the Experiential Learning Hub. Only when I began to join clubs like Oxfam and CARRM in my third year did I feel truly connected to my University experience, so I would urge all students to get involved in your University community! Without joining CARRM and being introduced to the Vickaryous lab’s research, I might never have realized my passion for academia.