SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Iman Baharmand

Full name: Iman Baharmand
Major: Biological Sciences 
Year: 5th (Honours)
Supervisor: Dr. Carl Lowenberger

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up? 
A: At this moment in time, I am captivated by the idea of being a clinical instructor and physician. It seems like a meaningful way of supporting future generations of health professionals while also staying up-to-date with medical knowledge.

Q: How did you get involved in research? 
A:
 I had some friends who were involved in research at SFU and they broke the news to me that YES, undergrads can actually contribute to research. My first step was taking BISC 298 (intro to undergraduate research) which is a “for credit” research course that you take under the supervision of a faculty member. Three years later and I have the honour of working on my Honours (lol) in the same research lab.

Q: What are you researching? 
A:
 The “leading star” in my project is the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which is the primary carrier of dengue, zika, and chikungunya viruses. I am investigating new ways of delivering gene silencing and modifying constructs to specific tissue and life-stages of this mosquito. The ultimate goal, however, is to decrease the transmission of these debilitating diseases without wiping out entire species from the ecosystem.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you? 
A:
 My project involves a combination of molecular techniques (gels, sequencing, qPCR), microscopy, and computer work. Some days are unstructured with a lot of reading while other days are tightly scheduled with one protocol after the next.

Q: What are some of your favourite courses that you have taken so far in your degree? 
A: 
My top three in no particular order are: 
BISC 318: Parasitology – Learn about parasites ranging from single-cell protozoa to macroscopic tapeworms. Parasitology features a great mix of ecology, epidemiology, and medical case studies with multiple life-lessons interwoven throughout the course.

BISC 441: Evolution of Health and Disease – Apply the contemporary principles of evolution to topics like reproductive health, senescence, cancer, and infectious diseases. This course offers a new/different lens on many familiar aspects of human life.

SA301: Contemporary Ethnography – As an anthropology minor, my list wouldn’t be complete without this one. An eye-opener about the historical issues with cultural anthropology, as well as, a deep-dive into theoretical and methodological questions of current-day practices. 

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field? 
A:
 Science Twitter at its finest:

Q: Who is your biggest science role-model? 
A: 
Professor Eva Harris (UC Berkeley) – her research group takes a multidisciplinary approach to studying dengue, Zika, and chikungunya. She is also the founder of the Sustainable Sciences Institute which works to improve public health in developing countries through building local capacity for infectious diseases research. Prof. Harris is also a MacArthur Fellow, Global Leader for Tomorrow (World Economic Forum), and Fellow of the American Society of Tropical Medicine.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xryNPwpi0g

My CV of Failures

by Sean La

Just this past week, I was accepted to graduate school. Now, I know what you’re thinking: this must be another one of those arrogant blog posts about “FIVE EASY WAYS YOU TOO CAN BE JUST AS AMAZINGLY SUCCESSFUL AS ME”. I assure you, this is not one of those articles— they annoy me just as much as they do to you, and I doubt anyone has ever became successful because of them.

The reason why I’m writing this article is not to flaunt my successes; quite the opposite. I’m here to tell you about my failures. After being given the privilege to perform research for another two years, I took some time to reflect upon my undergraduate academic career. And quite frankly, I feel it was underwhelming. For example, for every successful research project of mine, I have at least three or four failed projects behind it. And that’s the reality of research — everyone, and I mean everyone, is going to fail way more often than they’re going to succeed.

Of course, academics hardly ever talk about failure. Academia is a rat race (and contain many rat races), and it can be easy for aspiring scientists to feel inferior among the deluge of academic websites and LinkedIn profiles and Facebook posts and CVs, touting the many prestigious graduate school acceptances and journal articles and conference presentations and awards of other students. As it currently stands, this form of peacocking is a necessary evil for a career in academia. But it is still an evil, and I feel it’s important for all of us to remember that failure is part of the process.

So along with my CV of accomplishments, here is my CV of my failures, listed chronologically since high school and almost surely incomplete since I’m writing this from memory. This has been inspired by the CV of failures of academics like Johannes HaushoferI hope this serves as a helpful reminder for my peers that for the vast majority of us, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, all the time.


  1. (March 2013) Received a participation award at the Sanofi Biogenius Competition for my research project at the Biomedical Research Centre at UBC. I honestly would have preferred that they hadn’t given me anything at all. Like what am I, a twelve year old at a softball tournament?
  2. (November 2013) Received a predicted score of 32 out of 45 for my IB Diploma in high school, which fell short of the 34 points necessary to get a scholarship from SFU. To give some perspective, I self-predicted 38 points.
  3. (February 2014) Rejected from the Bachelor of International Economicsprogram at UBC.
  4. (December 2014) Didn’t receive the grade I wanted in ECON 103 at SFU that I wanted. Note that at the time, I wanted to go to graduate school in economics, but I gave up on that dream shortly after getting that lackluster grade in microeconomics.
  5. (October 2015) Withdrew from MATH 480W at SFU, leaving a W designation on my transcript. In retrospect, it was quite silly of me to take a 400 level math class when I was in second year.
  6. (November 2015) Failed a job interview for a prestigious mathematics research position with a governmental institution.
  7. (January 2016) Failed to get an NSERC USRA with a machine learning professor at the University of Toronto, whom I had a skype interview with.
  8. (February 2016) Was contacted by another University of Toronto professor to do research with him over the summer, but then was promptly ghosted.
  9. (April 2016) Received a mediocre grade in MATH 320, an important class for graduate school in economics. This really turned me away from economics.
  10. (Summer 2016) Failed experiment after failed experiment in my NSERC USRA at SFU.
  11. (March 2017) Journal sent back my paper with major revisions which were almost impossible to fix.
  12. (Summer 2017) Three failed projects during my research term at the National Institutes of Health.
  13. (Fall 2017) Received the worst grades of my life , which likely will make me noncompetitive for the NSERC CGS-M scholarship.
  14. (Summer 2018) Two more failed projects during my NSERC USRA at SFU.
  15. (October 2018) Contacted two professors at the University of Toronto for the MSc in Computer Science program for Fall 2019, and was promptly ghosted. Was also ghosted by another CS professor at the University of Waterloo. Though, she ended up emailing me back just last week actually, two months after the Waterloo CS application deadline. Oh, bother.

Wow, that was quite the list. But hey, I feel that my failures were just as formative for me as my successes, if not more so. These experiences taught me that even if I fail, I’ll be okay. That I’ll still be alive to fight another day.

So the next time you, fellow scientist, have an inconclusive experiment or a crummy test or a rejected application, remember that there are others who have failed way more than you have, like me!

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Deveshi Deveshi

Introducing Deveshi Deveshi from the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Deveshi Deveshi
Year: 3rd 
Major: Health Sciences, Life Sciences Stream
Supervisor: Dr. Gratien Prefontaine

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A:
I want to work in the healthcare system, preferably in medicine as a physician.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A:
Initially, I became interested in research by learning about the various research projects done in different faculties at SFU, especially in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Getting involved in research seemed as a great learning experience through which I could learn as well as apply my knowledge. So in my second year, I decided to contact various researchers to apply for research positions. However, I had very limited experience in working in a lab setting and most research projects did not have positions open so I didn’t get much response. Thankfully, Dr. Prefontaine invited me to join his Epigenetics Lab and so I got a summer USRA to conduct research in his lab.

Q: What are you researching?
A:
Dr. Prefontaine’s Lab focuses on the role of SmcHD1, an epigenetic chromatin remodeling protein, in gene expression and control. Over the Summer semester, I read various research papers on the topic and worked on creating different BAC plasmids with the SmcHD1 gene insert in order to use the Baculovirus Expression System which is a method used to produce recombinant baculovirus for protein expression.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A:
BISC 202 with Dr. Fitzpatrick! That course really fascinated me. Dr. Fitzpatrick made the course even more engaging.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field? 
A:
We had limited amount of the gene of focus so various procedures and experiments had to be done quite carefully and precisely. Initially, that was a bit scary but you learn as you go!

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A:
Initially, I became interested in research by learning about the various research projects done in different faculties at SFU, especially in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Getting involved in research seemed as a great learning experience through which I could learn as well as apply my knowledge. So in my second year, I decided to contact various researchers to apply for research positions. However, I had very limited experience in working in a lab setting and most research projects did not have positions open so I didn’t get much response. Thankfully, Dr. Prefontaine invited me to join his Epigenetics Lab and so I got a summer USRA to conduct research in his lab.

Q: What are you researching?
A:
Dr. Prefontaine’s Lab focuses on the role of SmcHD1, an epigenetic chromatin remodeling protein, in gene expression and control. Over the Summer semester, I read various research papers on the topic and worked on creating different BAC plasmids with the SmcHD1 gene insert in order to use the Baculovirus Expression System which is a method used to produce recombinant baculovirus for protein expression.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A:
BISC 202 with Dr. Fitzpatrick! That course really fascinated me. Dr. Fitzpatrick made the course even more engaging.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field? 
A:
We had limited amount of the gene of focus so various procedures and experiments had to be done quite carefully and precisely. Initially, that was a bit scary but you learn as you go!

Acknowledgements to my Mentors

By Sean La

I recently finished writing my honours thesis for my Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics. I proved that a computational problem arising in evolutionary biology is NP-hard and APX-hard, i.e. very hard to solve (probably), which was pretty cool. Along with my proofs, I’m also required to write a page of acknowledgements, thanking the people who’ve helped me along the way.

This got me thinking: as much as mathematics is beautiful and powerful, it was not a theorem that left the biggest impact on me these last four years, but two simple acts of compassion and mentorship. So here is what I wrote, slightly abridged to leave out mentions of my family and my friends, who are all very much important people, but not the focus of this post.

Acknowledgements

Many people can describe a memory that demarks their life into two distinct time periods: before and after. It may be an accomplishment, such as an academic degree or a first job, or something solemn, like the passing of a relative. For me, this defining memory is something perhaps more nerdy. But it’s significant to me nonetheless.

My memory is actually the summer of 2016, when I worked with the two of you on your various research projects. Perhaps it was not obvious at the time, but prior to that research term, I struggled with self-confidence. I had a hard time believing that I would be able to contribute much, or amount to anything. I made many mistakes that summer. But you two, you were patient and kind, but most importantly, you showed me discipline and mentorship. Because of you two, I now truly believe in my own ideas and that I do have the means to instigate positive change. Not only academically, but in all parts of my life.

I came to university wanting to become a professor, to gain the skills necessary to not only free myself from the shackles of my socioeconomic context, but to help others do the same as well. These shackles which were brought on by colonialism, duress, greed, the desire of men to have overwhelming power over others.

Four years later, I’m no more sure of whether I’ll be able to accomplish this goal. But you, my mentors, you’ve taught me a lesson more valuable than any of the theorems or algorithms I learned in class:

It doesn’t matter.

You two gave me the gift of self-confidence, the knowledge and the drive to build a meaningful future for myself and others, regardless of whether academia has a place for me. This is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in university.

So thank you.

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Quratulain Qureshi

Introducing Quratulain Qureshi from the department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

SFU_SURJ_BLOG_Quratulain_HighResolution

Full name: Quratulain Qureshi
Year: Fourth
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Supervisor: Dr. Ralph Pantophlet

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I hope to enter the field of medicine, either clinical or experimental. I have always enjoyed learning about pathology and hope to pursue it as part of my career.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: Very early into my degree, I became fascinated by all the scientific research taking place at SFU and availed every opportunity to attend research seminars and thesis defenses to learn more. During my first year, I joined the Injury Prevention and Mobility Lab as a volunteer where we analyzed the biomechanics of fall events in older adults. I then took MBB322 and became exposed to and developed an interest in immunology topics. I did some research on SFU’s Immunology group and was fascinated with the research being done in the Pantophlet Lab. Seeing an opening, I decided to apply, and I was thrilled when I got an interview and a subsequent internship.

Q: What are you researching?
A: Research in our lab involves HIV-1 vaccine immunology and molecular vaccine design. Historically, vaccines modeled after conserved components of an infectious agent have proven to be an effective way of priming the individual’s immune system with the right tools in case of an infection. Finding these components for HIV has been a challenge due to the high mutation rate of the virus. Our lab has identified a sugar molecule (glycan) on the viral surface that exhibits a lower level of variability and is a potential candidate. My project involves probing molecules designed to mimic this glycan for binding affinity using a class of antibodies that elicits a neutralizing effect for the HIV virus. I am also studying the efficacy of these mimetics when model organisms are immunized with them.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: It depends on the day, most days I perform binding assays using ELISAs or Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR). These experiments usually take some time and have long incubations, so I try to keep myself organized and plan my day first thing when I come in (I realized how important this step is the hard way). I also carry out protein purifications using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and perform various recombinant DNA techniques.

Q: What’s your favorite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: My favorite course so far has been MBB309W. It was my first Biochemistry Lab experience. I loved being able to perform the techniques we learned about in textbooks and it was always thrilling to analyze data after lab to see if our hours of work yielded good results.

Q: Favorite science joke or meme from your field?

Meme

 

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Centrifuges. I still check multiple times to make sure everything is balanced.

We’re Recruiting!

We're recruiting! (1)

Are you interested in joining SFU SURJ’s 2018-2019 Editorial Team?

We are looking for motivated individuals who are interested in learning more about the peer-review process.

To apply, fill out this application form and email it to sfusurj@sfu.ca with the title “Editor Application 2018/2019.” Please also attach a CV or resume.

The deadline to email us your application form and CV/resume is Monday October 1st.

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Aleksandra Dojnov

Introducing Aleksandra Dojnov from the department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

Photo_as_participant

Name: Aleksandra Dojnov
Year: 3rd Year
Major:
Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology
Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Robinovitch

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up/ finish undergrad?
A: The human body has always been interesting to me. I swam competitively as a kid and, because of this, spent a lot of time at the physiotherapists. I found these sessions with my physiotherapist interesting so when it came to apply for university, I applied to SFU’s Kinesiology major with the goal of becoming a physiotherapist. As I progressed through my degree, I realized I liked biomechanics and building things a lot, so I searched graduate schools related to my interests. I found a prosthetics program and have wanted to go into prosthetics since then. In the future, I hope to make neuro-prosthetics and wearable sensors.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: Last September I started volunteering in the IPML lab. This opportunity got me more interested in research so, when I started applying for co-op jobs, I decided to apply for an 8-month co-op in the lab. I ended up getting the job and, as part of my co-op, I get the opportunity to work on a research project.

Q: What are you researching?
A: We are looking at the associations between fall characteristics of older adults in long-term care facilities and their injury patterns. Previous research has investigated either the associations between impact and other fall characteristics or between fall characteristics and injury patterns using data collected from the faller, but this has not been very accurate. We’re looking into injury patterns using data collected via video camera footage, so our data should produce new, and more accurate, results.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?

MEME

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: What both excites and scares me the most in my field is the direction we’re heading towards creating cyborgs. The equipment available to enhance the human body is rapidly improving. With these quick advances in technology, it may become hard to use technology only for good. I think we may be seeing a hopefully benevolent, cyborg in the very near future.