From undergrads to postdocs, meet our trainees in the SickKids Research Institute
When it comes to conducting research that is taking on some of the toughest challenges in child health, researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) rely on collaboration and teamwork. Key members of SickKids’ research teams are trainees who are honing their research skills while pursuing some of the most innovative and impactful paediatric health research in the world.
The Research Training Centre at SickKids supports more than 1,200 research trainees who work alongside renowned scientists and researchers across the multidisciplinary programs in the Research Institute. Trainees across the Research Institute – including undergraduate and graduate research students, research fellows and research associates – are making invaluable contributions to the science being conducted at SickKids.
From their earliest forays into research in high school and university, to those who are on the cusp of launching their own research careers, hear insights and perspectives from just a few of the trainees who are an integral part of our research teams.
Nifemi Adeoye, Summer Research Student in the Strug Lab
Born in Nigeria, Nifemi Adeoye and her family immigrated to Canada when she was two years old. Her research interests lie in population health research, including genetic epidemiology, maternal and child development, and reproductive, perinatal and paediatric epidemiology.
Nifemi is a former Student Advancement Research (StAR) student in Lisa Strug’s lab where she assisted in the analysis of their Cystic Fibrosis cohort. After completing the six-week program, which provides Indigenous, Black and Filipino high school students experience working in research, she’s now back in the Strug Lab this summer as a summer research student where she’s assisting with the Genetic Epidemiology Committee of the Canadian COVID Genomics Network HostSeq Project.
“I was very nervous coming into both positions, but I was met with nothing but understanding, and encouragement from my supervisors and PI,” Nifemi says. “As a student, imposter syndrome is very real, but Dr. Strug’s lab has always encouraged my learning and growth. My time at SickKids has exposed me to the intricacies and diversity in research, the plethora of expertise that is required to keep advancing our scientific knowledge, and the importance of collaboration.”
Nifemi is a second-year Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences student at Queen’s University where she plans on specializing in Global and Population Health and Applied Research Methodologies. While she focuses on completing her degree, she’s honing in on her research interests. Her goal is to complete a Masters in Epidemiology or Public Health and eventually head to medical school where she has her sights set on becoming a clinician scientist.
She’s passionate about ensuring diverse and immigrant communities are represented in research. “Through this journey my goal is to ensure I build a skill set that will allow me to make a difference in the lives of the diverse communities that make up our home.”
Kristine Keon, Research Assistant in the Rubinstein Lab
Before joining SickKids as a research assistant in John Rubinstein’s lab, Kristine Keon completed an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Guelph and a master’s degree in the Department of Medical Biophysics at University of Toronto. Her research interests include determining 3D structures of enzymes to figure out how they work. She works on the vacuolar-type ATPase, a proton pump found in many organelles and in the cell membranes of specialized cells.
“I like getting hands-on research experience in the laboratory,” says Kristine. “I would say that my favourite part is using the electron microscope and seeing little, blurry V-ATPases in the micrographs! I also like processing the data to compute 3D structures of the enzymes from the 2D images. I think the most valuable part of the experience was learning how to communicate my ideas, excitement and findings effectively to experts in my field and non-experts through talks and writing manuscripts.”
What’s next for Kristine? In the fall, she’ll be starting medical school at U of T. Though she’s not sure yet what kind of physician she wants to be, her goal is to help Indigenous patients feel safe and understood when receiving health care. A member of the Nipissing First Nation, Kristine says, “I hope I can incorporate traditional Indigenous practices into my work if patients request it in a two-eyed seeing approach.”
Clare Burn Aschner, Research Fellow in the Julien Lab
Clare Burn Aschner was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the epicentre of the global HIV and tuberculosis epidemics. She credits where she is from as what sparked her interest in infectious disease research and a career in microbiology and immunology.
After conducting PhD research on vaccine and monoclonal antibody therapeutic development for herpes simplex virus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City through the support of a Fulbright Scholarship and the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes International Research Fellowship, Clare then joined Jean-Philippe Julien’s lab in 2020. Joining at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare worked on research related to antibody therapeutics for COVID-19 and malaria.
“I came to SickKids with extensive in vivo and basic immunology and infectious disease training, but very limited biochemistry experience,” says Clare. “I joined J.P.’s lab to learn the biochemistry and structural immunology of antibodies, and it’s been an extremely rewarding experience! I’ve not only been able to learn an entirely new skillset in a very supportive environment but have also managed to expand the lab’s abilities in my own existing areas of expertise. J.P.’s lab and SickKids has been a great place to learn!”
Clare looks forward to continuing her work on ultra-potent antibody-based therapeutics for COVID-19 and malaria and hopes to pursue an academic career and start her own lab.
Kimberley Gauthier, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Brill Lab
After completing her PhD in cell biology at McGill University in 2020, Kimberley Gauthier joined Julie Brill’s lab as a postdoctoral research fellow. Her scientific curiosity is focused on how cellular activity and genetics drive development. When she was a graduate student, she studied regulation of the epidermal growth factor receptor – a gene frequently overactivated in certain cancers – in epithelial tissue development in the roundworm, C. elegans. Now, she’s studying how a lipid phosphatase regulates sealing of epithelial tissues during fruit fly embryogenesis.
Outside the lab, Kimberley volunteers with the Postdoctoral Advisory Committee (PDAC) at the Research Training Centre (RTC) to bring opportunities for socializing, networking and career development to her fellow postdocs. She also volunteers with the Canadian Black Scientists Network where she helped organize the inaugural Black Excellence in STEMM research conference.
"I have often heard about how isolating being a postdoc can feel, and a pandemic doesn't help," she says. "Joining PDAC helped me form meaningful connections. The tremendous support from my PI and lab-mates, career development events hosted by the PDAC and the RTC, and the expertise offered by our exceptional imaging facility managers, have all been highlights of my experience."
Though Kimberley isn’t sure what comes next, she’s aiming to find a role where she can make a positive impact on society. For now, she’s focusing on her research and is making the most out of her experience as a postdoc.