When Quest students take Question block in their second year, they are required to brainstorm ideas for their Keystone – the culminating project of our undergraduate education. Most students take one year or more to work this project, which can be anything from a literature review, original research article, documentary, stage play, … the list goes on.
My Question, “How can we overcome our genetic predispositions through diet?” is based in biomedical science. I always knew that I wanted to conduct original research in a lab. Many students have conducted research at Quest, but I knew that my interests would go beyond the capabilities of the Quest labs. During my Question block, I spoke with a biologist named Angela Devlin. Her lab was based in the Child and Family Research Institute at the BC Children’s Hospital. Her research was based on nutrigenomics, and so I sought some direction regarding the main scientists in the field, and relevant literature. Over a year later, I contacted her again asking if she had a project that I could work on for my Keystone. Miraculously, she had the perfect project, which I worked on from May to September. Essentially, I would be looking at the effects of maternal diet and exercise on offspring gene expression.
Quest courses do provide lab experience. But in the sciences, there is nothing like having your own research question that you work on daily for five months. During that time, I:
- Learned relevant biological techniques and how to troubleshoot problems that arise (so much troubleshooting…).
- Was surrounded by motivated scientists and clinicians, including my direct supervisor Nicha who is a Master’s student in the UBC Experimental Medicine program. My project was a smaller subset of her work.
- Partook in the CFRI summer studentship program, involving nearly 150 undergraduate and medical students. This program involved weekly lectures from Principal Investigators (i.e. the heads of the labs) that provided background on their area of research. In addition, each student gave a short presentation regarding their own work, as well as a final poster presentation.
- Attended a weekly Diabetes journal club to learn and critically analyze groundbreaking research in the field.
- Attended many clinical talks and symposiums on a wide-variety of topics involving children or pregnant women.
At the end of the five months, I had sufficient data to write an original research article. For my Keystone, I added a short background section regarding the major topics of my study, and I am now undergoing the first round of edits. This could have been achieved in the Quest labs, but working in a world-renowned facility exposed me to so much knowledge that I would not have had the chance to experience on our small campus. I strongly urge this kind of experience to any Quest student interested in the life sciences, whether it be Keystone related or not, and am grateful that Quest allows us the flexibility to conduct our own projects in the most productive way.