SFU Undergrad Researcher: Tiffany Barszczewski

Introducing Tiffany Barszczewski from the Department of Biomedical Physiology!

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Name: Tiffany Barszczewski
Year: 3rd year
Major: Biomedical Physiology
Supervisor: Dr. Glen Tibbits

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I think, more than anything else, I want to be a mother. A good one. Both of my parents worked really hard to come to Canada and to establish themselves here. Despite their challenges, they raised three healthy, loving children. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I will be able to balance family life with practicing medicine, becoming a professor, or whatever else I might decide to do. It will come with its trials and hurdles, but I believe it is possible to find that balance between what I want at home and what I want as a professional.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I had recently switched into the Biomedical Physiology program and wanted to be a more involved student. A friend recommended I email some professors in the department to see if they needed help in their labs. I looked up the research profiles of the professors, and I was interested in almost all of them, so I sent quite a few emails asking if anyone needed a volunteer in the lab for the summer. I received a lot of polite no’s, which I totally understood: I had only taken one course in BPK, my GPA wasn’t the most coveted, and I was just at the end of my second year. Did I seem promising over email? Probably not. When I received a reply from Dr. Glen Tibbits to meet and get acquainted with two of his PhD students, I was shocked. The learning experience I had that summer was one that I will never forget. I began to really see the meaningful purpose behind the research going on in the lab, and I even got my name on a poster they presented at a conference in Copenhagen! Currently, I am completing a Directed Studies semester with my mentor (Alison, you’re the best!), and will soon be presenting my own research poster at BPK Research Day.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: Cardiac troponin complex plays a significant role in regulating contractile strength of the heart through calcium (Ca)-binding. Some mutations in troponin’s three subunits can alter this property of the cardiomyocytes, leading to arrhythmias and, even more unfortunately, sudden cardiac death. I perform E. coli recombinant methods and purify the troponin subunits with a couple of mutations using various chromatography techniques. I will eventually combine these subunits together to make reconstituted thin filament and examine the changes in Ca binding kinetics of mutations in the thin filament using stopped-flow apparatus. The mutations I am looking at are related to the sudden infant death syndrome research Tibbits Lab has been working on. Going back to wanting to be a good mother one day, some people do not have it as easy. Some only get a few days or months to be parents before their children pass away unexpectedly. Was it something they had done? Could there have been a way to prevent this from happening? Will this happen again the next time they have a baby? The answer is still unknown, and I cannot imagine the pain these people must go through, topped with a lack of closure. I hope to see promise in the future for SIDS research so these parents can get the answers they deserve.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: I’ll be studying for the MCAT. I have tried to push the thought of it out of my mind. I hope to pop into the lab a couple times a week too. I love being able to clear my head a bit by doing some pipetting here and there, and I’d probably miss the smell of me killing E. coli with bleach.

 

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Marie Curie. Truly a legend. Two Nobels, died by her life’s work, and a woman of science pushing through a time where the world was much less friendly towards women. She’s also Polish, like me. Whenever Marie is mentioned in class or in a textbook, I can’t help but smile.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: The first thing that came to mind was the Bunsen burner. Fire scares me, but I have to work closely with the flame when I’m working with E. Coli. Honestly though, I am afraid of letting Dr. Tibbits down. I’ve worked really hard to understand the background material related to our research, especially because when I started volunteering, I hadn’t taken his course or any other higher physiology courses. He probably does not have super high expectations for me, but I constantly want to show him my growth, hard work, and passion for learning.

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: The -80 C fridge? It’s not really a lab instrument, but I guess I can relate to it the most. Pretty cold, keeps things pent up inside for a really long time, and ruins people’s lives when it stops working properly.

 

 

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