Leola Chow completed a Bachelors of Science degree in genetics at the University of Alberta in 2000. As part of the program requirement, she completed an honours project in her last year of undergraduate studies. This parlayed into a summer research position, then a Master’s thesis which was ultimately completed as a Phd Thesis. Her thesis research investigated factors that determine cell fate. After graduating, Leola was awarded a Canadian Blood Services post-doctoral fellowship at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto where she studied autoimmune diseases related to blood. Currently, Leola is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Manitoba where she tests treatments for asthma and arthritis.
Her graduate studies taught her basic laboratory skills required for performing sophisticated biological experiments, provided her with a comprehensive knowledge of molecular biology and also made her realize her affinity for medical research. Because of this, Leola was able to transition smoothly into a more clinical field for her post-doctoral research which involves hematology, cell analysis, human immune diseases and designing animal models to investigate these diseases. After many years of studying, researching and learning in a highly specialized field, Leola now considers herself a professional immunologist/geneticist with a specialization in immune diseases.
Having spent a number of years as both a graduate student and a postdoctoral fellow, Leola feels both positions are research intensive and require a lot of self-learning. As a PhD student, you are teaching yourself to be a critical and thorough research scientist and learning basic experimental techniques needed for more specialized research. As a post-doctoral fellow, there is less need for learning fundamental procedures and a more immediate jump into the research project. In addition, it is rare for a post-doctoral fellow in her field to teach while it is quite common that graduate students are part-time teaching assistants.
A few words of wisdom from Leola for future and current graduate students are as follows. Consider a supervisor who is active in the laboratory and involved with his/her graduate students as well as someone who has a small research group. This allows for an open and intimate learning environment with opportunities for everyone to share and communicate. As a post-doctoral fellow, work with a researcher who is established because at this stage, the research is extremely intensive and hence, requires more resources and an experienced mentor. Lastly, having acquired her second post-doctoral position via networking, Leola wants you to know that it is never too early to network and open yourself to future career opportunities.
Thank you to Leola for taking the time to do this interview.