SFU Undergrad Researcher: Shayda Swann

Introducing Shayda Swann from the Faculty of Health Sciences!


Name: Shayda Swann
Year: 4th year
Major: Health Sciences
Supervisor: Dr. Mark Brockman

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I want to be a paediatrician and would like to specialize in paediatric infectious disease.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: My first research experience was BISC 272 – Special Topics in Biological Research (shout out Dr. Kevin Lam)

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: I am researching the integration site of HIV into T-cells and how this impacts viral reactivation from latency

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Usually, I like to get started with my wet lab work right away, and then spend the rest of the day looking at my data while the experiments run. Also, lots of coffee breaks and walks with the rest of the lab are a must!

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: My favourite course is definitely MBB 428 – definitely take it if you have an interest in infectious disease!

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A: The gels of my failed PCR…

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Does my high school chemistry teacher count? (shout out Mr. Henderson)
What scares you the most in the lab or the field?

Q: What’s the funniest thing in the lab that’s happened to you?
A: I once connected the electrodes backwards on the electrophoresis box and ended up running my samples off the gel.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Definitely the centrifuge.



SFU Undergrad Researcher: Olivia Tsai

Introducing Olivia Tsai of the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Olivia Tsai
Major: Health Sciences
Year of Study: 2nd
Supervisor: Jeff Yap, PhD Student, of the Williams Lab
Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I worked at the Animal Care Facility last summer, taking care of the zebra finches. It got me interested in avian physiology, so I started volunteering with my current supervisor.


Q: What is your research about? What will you be working on this summer? 
A: I’m studying red blood cell production. I’ll be doing an experiment to validate the use of dietary nitrate to reduce hematocrit and hemoglobin concentration in zebra finches.


Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Asking my supervisor lots of questions. Sometimes blood sampling and running assays. Sometimes data collection and analyzing stats.


Q: What scares you most about science?
A: Figuring out the logistics of a new project. Getting past the stage of “Is it even possible to accomplish this?”


Q: If you could be any laboratory instrument, what would you be?
A: A petri dish because I’d be so cultured.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Sandali Chandrarathna

Next up in our SFU undergrad researcher series, we have Sandali Chandrarathna!

Name: Sandali Chandrarathna
Faculty: Health Sciences
Year of Study: 5th
Supervisor: Dr. Zabrina BrummeSANDALI CHANDRARATHNA


Q: What is your research about?
A: Our lab researches the genetics and evolution of HIV-1 virus. I was lucky enough to get my own project, which is a cross sectional study of a cohort of early-infected patients from Toronto. I’m characterizing genetic and functional diversity as well as immune-driven evolution within individual infections and within the cohort as a whole. Specifically, I’m looking at an HIV-1 accessory gene called Nef which is known to play an important role in viral pathogenesis and infectivity in vivo.


Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: Funny enough, up until the fourth year of my Life Science degree in FHS, I never felt compelled to get involved in any lab research but, at the end of what I though to be my penultimate semester of undergrad, once the course started focusing more on primary literature, I started craving some practical experience. So I e-mailed a couple researchers at SFU whose research was in line with my interests and ended up applying for a USRA with Dr. Brumme. That was last summer. After that, I stayed on with the lab group as an Honours student, and will be defending my Thesis next month!


Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: *incoming cliché* I’ve always wanted to keep people from getting sick, and that hasn’t changed! The goal is to get an MD and practice in a community clinic. A lot of my experience outside of lab research is in health promotion and out in the community, so I see tremendous value in community-level interventions in improving health and well-being. I’d also really like to be involved at the policy level in some capacity…we’ll see what happens I guess!


Q: Favorite Course?
A: Hmm, I’d say it’s a toss up between Dr. Van Houten’s Seminar in Infectious Disease and the late Dr. Goldner’s course on Mental Illness in Canada. Both of those courses really resonated with and influenced me.


Q: What scares you the most in the lab?
I guess I should be expected to say HIV is the scariest thing in the lab but, because we take the necessary precautions with handling and storing infectious material, that’s not so much of a concern (although I was definitely wary when I started in the lab!). I think what scares me the most is the possibility of contamination. Contaminating your samples with other samples, with bacteria, contaminating your cell lines, your PCR reactions… no fun.