1. What is your day job?
I have the extraordinary pleasure of getting to work full-time in a research lab at the University of Toronto. I spend a lot of my time growing brain cells in culture dishes and staring at them through various microscopes, all as part of our lab’s efforts to better understand how stem cells build the brain before we’re born. I also teach introductory undergraduate courses in neuroscience and genetics at U of T, and moonlight as an Instagrammer showcasing the fun and trendy side of science.
2. What do you love most about your work?
I love that my work is answering big questions by zooming in on the microscopic. There is so much mystery in the universes of cells that make up our bodies, and the closer you look, the more questions emerge: how do the trillions of cells in our bodies form from just 1 cell - the fertilized egg? How are our brains with billions of cells maintain themselves throughout adult life? Are there stem cells in adult brains and, if so, what do they do?? Can we harness them for regeneration after injury or disease? I love that as scientists we don’t always know the answers, but that our research empowers us to find them out.
3. What inspired you to get into your field?
I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour — no matter how great or terrifying the situation, my mind always wonders to “why?” That led me to study neuroscience as an undergraduate student, and while initially, I was studying neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, I decided I wanted to understand how it all started before figuring out how we might be able to fix things. That led me to study stem cells for my PhD because I strongly believe the best way to figure out how to regenerate organs is to first solve the problem of how they were generated in the first place.
4. What inspires you creatively?
I am infinitely inspired by the world around me. Even something as mundane as a warm cup of coffee triggers a cascade of curious questions, from “why do I love coffee?” To “what’s happening in my brain to make me crave coffee?” And, “what’s the scientifically best way to brew a cup?”
I love talking to other people and hearing their questions and ideas, and it is the value I have for learning from others that inspire me to want to find new creative ways to teach others. I am most inspired by those in other fields, and take a lot of creative inspiration from fashion and beauty bloggers, videographers, entrepreneurship, and tech.
5. Who is your favourite artist?
I am so inspired by my friend Jennifer Ma (@itslikepudding and @STEAMotype) because she combines artistry with science in a way that is always inclusive and beautiful. She has a truly collaborative spirit and is always willing to work with others to help them find the hidden art in their passion, and she is completely self-taught which inspires me to try new things myself!
6. Who is your favourite scientist?
A scientist very dear to my heart is the late Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini. She was an Italian Jewish neuroscientist who fled life-threatening conditions during world war 2 to pursue her studies. She later received the Nobel Prize for her outstanding contributions to the field, including her discovery of Nerve Growth Factor, an important molecule that helps the message-conducting cells called neurons in our brain grow and form connections to one another.
7. What do you love about science and art?
I love intertwined science is with art, and how they have a truly synergistic relationship. Science gives us the framework for asking and answering questions, and art allows us to better visualize and draw meaning from those data. Art also showcases the beauty of our world in new ways that inspire us and help us make connections, that ultimately can lead to greater scientific appreciation and curiosity.
I also believe it’s important for science to be communicated because knowledge is best when it is shared! Art allows us to better share knowledge so it can connect and help others, and for that, I am eternally grateful for science artists!