SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Naomi Giesbrecht

Introducing Naomi Giesbrecht from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!


Name: Naomi Giesbrecht
Year: 3rd year
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Supervisor: Dr. Jonathan Choy

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up/ finish undergrad?
A: When I was a kid, I thought being “grown up” was the age I am now (I’m older than you might guess); I’m still waiting to grow up. When I’m finished school though, I hope to be a clinical pharmacist. I’ve chosen pharmacy because it pairs what I already enjoy studying (science and chemistry) with working alongside patients and medical professionals.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
In my first year I wanted to get involved at school and gain some volunteer experience. I didn’t have much background knowledge in the MBB field yet, so I found a psychology research lab who was willing to take me on as extra help (thank you Dr. Mistlberger and all the wonderful researchers in his lab!). Initially I helped with general tasks of cleaning, taking care of animals used in their studies, and data formatting. Since the research involved animal models, the opportunity to learn genotyping techniques such as PCR and gel electrophoresis became available. As I was just learning about these procedures in class, I was ecstatic to get to a chance to try them out for real! Although my background knowledge wasn’t particularly strong, the experience I gained allowed me to be more useful in a MBB lab setting. By second year I found myself volunteering my time in the same way in Dr. Choy’s lab. This summer, I am very grateful to Dr. Choy and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for the opportunity to work as an undergraduate researcher.

Q: What are you researching?
Dr. Choy’s lab studies heart transplant rejection. One of the leading causes of transplant rejection is due to transplant arteriosclerosis, a disease inducing thickening in the donor arteries due to the immune responses of the recipient. My project includes a lot of immunohistochemistry (IHC), to analyze the role of different T-cells and their cytokines in the immune mechanisms that transplant arteriosclerosis appropriates.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: When I enter the lab in the morning, I immediately start the kettle boiling for my first (of many) cups of coffee in the day. Next I usually get settled in at my desk, and plan which artery stains I’ll do in the day. Then, I’ll get started. While learning the IHC protocol, I found two things particularly surprising: the first, how small everything you work with actually is (a single mouse artery is only the size of a pin’s head); the second, how many timers I have beep at me during a day. I literally set 30 alarms for one protocol. At some point in the day I’ll grab some lunch, and when things start slowing down in the afternoon I will do background readings to improve my knowledge of our research.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A: Anti-vaccers.

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: I’d be one of those benchtop rotators that keep your samples moving around. Even when you think I’m just sitting there, I’m probably shaking, twitching, or jiggling my legs (I apologize to everyone I sit with in lectures for shaking your seats)

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Bill Nye! Off the top of my head I can’t think of anything he’s contributed to science, but I really love how accessible and understandable he makes science for everyone.


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