Meet the Researcher

Katherine Shaw

PhD Candidate
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

 

 

Current Research

What is your research focus? 
My research focuses on understanding the importance of estrogens for fish behaviour. I’m interested in understanding the importance of gonadal vs. brain-derived estrogens, as well as differences in their importance between males and females.

What current project are you excited about? 
I think my most exciting current project is looking at the importance of brain-derived estrogens for sexual behaviour in zebrafish.  

What do you like about working with zebrafish? What don’t you like about it? 
One of my favourite things about working with zebrafish is the abundance of resources available for developing hypotheses and experiment planning. There’s an incredible amount of zebrafish research being conducted worldwide in so many different fields of biology, and this makes it possible to search for experts on particular topics and potentially be able to gain needed information that might otherwise require a lot of time and testing in experiments. The Zebrafish Information Network (ZFIN) is also an incredible database to consolidate and share all the wealth of zebrafish research, which I find makes searching for protocols and papers much easier. My research background is largely in studying weakly electric fish, in which there are far fewer resources available, and so this has given me a strong appreciation for the zebrafish community.
I wouldn’t use the phrase “don’t like,” but rather that an area that I strongly feel “could be improved” in zebrafish is a better understanding of social behaviour and the standardization of behavioural testing. Of course, I hope and intend that my research will be a part of that improvement effort 😊  

Getting to know you better

Where were you born/where did you grow up?   
I was born in Ontario, Canada, and grew-up mostly on the west coast in British Columbia.

When did you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? /What made you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? 
I realized that I wanted to be a scientist in my first year of university. It wasn’t the career path that I had enrolled for, I started university with the intention to become a translator because I’ve always been interested in languages. But then, sitting in my first-year biology course, I found myself so excited to hear about the cool research being conducted by professors in the department and to learn how people studied and understood non-human animal communication, that I switched to a Bachelor of Science with a Major in Biology, and have never regretted it since.

Where did you do your undergraduate studies? Did you do research with anyone? 
I completed my Bachelor of Science at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. I had research opportunities studying invasive species ecology with Dr. Anthony Ricciardi, social learning in guppies with Dr. Simon Reader, and signalling behaviour in weakly electric fish with Dr. Rüdiger Krahe. 

Where did you do graduate studies and with whom?  What did you work on? 
I completed my Master of Science at McGill University under the supervision of Dr. Rüdiger Krahe. I studied the role of estrogens in signalling behaviour in a species of weakly electric fish called the brown ghost knifefish. I am currently in my PhD at the University of Ottawa under the supervision of Dr. Vance Trudeau.

Where did you do postdoctoral studies and with whom?  What did you work on? 
My postdoctoral studies have not yet begun. Best to finish the PhD first, stay posted!

What other jobs have you had? 
In the years between my graduate degrees, I worked as a Research Technician in the Evolutionary Genomics Lab of Dr. Jason Gallant at Michigan State University. It was a great experience and introduction to genomics research before starting my PhD.

Science and Careers

Share a turning point or defining moment in your science/career. 
Between my graduate degrees, I wrote and published a single author review paper on the topic of estrogen effects in the brain and behaviour of teleost fish. It was a lot more challenging than I had initially expected, particularly in organizing my ideas and believing in myself to accomplish the task when there was no one supervising me. It was one of the most empowering experiences that I’ve had as a scientist to feel that I could make a contribution with my ideas and that I was not an imposter, because the manuscript was positively reviewed, with of course, lots of great constructive critiques that helped improve the manuscript as well.  

If you could be present for any "Eureka" moment in history (i.e. the moment some scientific discovery was made), which moment would you choose? Why? 
I would choose the moment that estrogens were discovered to be locally produced in the brain, most surprisingly in the male brain. This occurs through aromatase expression and activity in the brain. It was an incredible scientific discovery in the 1970s and has shifted our understanding of the role of estrogens in sexual differentiation of the brain; a topic that is still under study to this day. I would choose that moment of scientific discovery, because it is the foundation of my research and I think that it would be interesting to observe the reactions of the scientists as they realized the importance of the discovery for the field of endocrinology research.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in science/research?
I would advise them to prepare for what will likely be a very challenging journey, but that will also be incredibly empowering in learning ways to systemically find answers to your own questions. I would also advise them to foster strong support and challenge networks, because you need people that are going to make you feel better when the going gets tough, and also people that are going to make the going a little bit more tough so that you can become a better scientist/researcher.

Where do you think the next scientific breakthroughs are going to occur? 
I think that the next scientific breakthroughs in the study of animal behaviour are going to occur with continued innovations in gene editing techniques and in artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning. Gene editing techniques enable us to study the importance of an individual gene for behaviour, including concepts such as where and when its expression is required. I also think that harnessing the power of computers to accelerate and standardize behavioural analyses will have a major impact on the speed and depth of study in animal behaviour.

What is the most challenging part about your science or obtaining your career goals? 
The most challenging part about being in research and a scientist for me is in maintaining balance in my life. I think that there’s a lot to do in continuing to develop just as a researcher and to stay current in your field, and then there’s also personal development in other areas of life that I believe is important to pursue. So, I’m constantly setting short- and long-term goals, and readjusting as necessary, to try to maintain balance in my life.

Outside of work

What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab? 
One of my favourite activities outside of the lab is wildlife photography. I love seeing the diversity of animal forms and behaviours that exist in the world, and it has taught me patience that I think my research has benefited from. I also enjoy outdoor sports as a means to destress and stay healthy.

What are you reading right now (not including research papers)? 
I’m reading “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. So far, really good!

Name a favorite song or musical piece. 
Favourite song would have to be “Night Moves” by Bob Seger. I love classic rock.

Favorite place you have lived or visited? 
My favourite place that I’ve lived is Montreal, Canada. It’s a very diverse and fun city with great food!

What alternative career would you like to attempt if you could? 
If I had to choose an alternative career path, I think it would be a veterinarian.

Provide a quote that speaks to you. 
One of my favourite quotes has always been “Be the change you wish to see in the world”- Mahatma Gandhi. It helps to remind me that future values and beliefs are defined by the actions we make in the present. It reminds me to be brave.

*I proudly identify as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community


Rajesh Pamanji, PhD

Postdoctoral Researacher
Pondicherry University
Puducherry, India

 

 

Current Research

What is your research focus? 
I am presently working on Alzheimer’s disease modelling and drug discovery using the zebrafish, in hopes of helping develop a cure.  I plan to start working with Spinal muscular atrophy modelling and drug development as well.

What current project are you excited about? 
I am currently working with Hydantoins, a class of drugs that have multiple properties.  I’m excited to know whether these compounds have anti-neurodegenerative properties.

What do you like about working with zebrafish? What don’t you like about it? 
I really enjoy working with zebrafish – they are almost like pets to me - spending time with them makes me happy.  Of course , they are easy to handle and genetically manipulate.

Getting to know you better

Where were you born/where did you grow up?   
I was born in Pamanji, a small village, and grew up in Gudur town in Andhra Pradesh state, India.

When did you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? /What made you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? 
Science chose me! The pain of children and their parents who are suffering with mental and neurodegenerative disorders made me to choose my career path as a scientist. I am very much fascinated by drug discovery related to developmental neurodegenerative disorders, because of the high cost of the drugs which are not affordable by common people.

Where did you do your undergraduate studies? Did you do research with anyone? 
I received my B.Sc. Biotechnology from Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, India, and a postgraduate M.Sc. degree from Periyar University, Salem, India.  I was not able to participate in research during that time.

Where did you do graduate studies and with whom?  What did you work on? 
I received my Ph.D. from one of India’s best research institutes, the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, with a CSIR-JRF fellowship under the supervision of Dr. Janapala Venkateswara Rao. Retd. Chief Scientist.  Initially, I worked on marine sponge collection from Gulf of Mannar, India, culturing sponges under laboratory conditions for the extraction of secondary metabolites. I worked with both natural and synthetic compounds, evaluating them for their antiproliferative, anti-cancer properties. As part of my Ph.D. thesis, I worked on developmental toxicity of organophosphorus pesticides Monocrotophos and Profenofos on Zebrafish, with special emphasis on morphological, biochemical, and behavioural studies.  

Where did you do postdoctoral studies and with whom?  What did you work on? 
My first Postdoctoral studies were carried out with aid of a DST-SERB National Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Molecular Reproduction and Developmental Genetics Division, at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India under the supervision of Prof. Upendra Nongthomba, to develop a transgenic zebrafish Alzheimer’s disease model by overexpression of human MAPT gene and rescue.   I am presently working with Dr. DS Kothari Postdoctoral fellowship on Alzheimer’s disease modelling in zebrafish using pathogens and drug discovery in the Microbiology department, Pondicherry University under the supervision of Prof. Joseph Selvin.

What other jobs have you had? 
Immediately after award of my Ph.D. I was hired as an Associate Scientist at Aragen Life Sciences (formerly GVK Bio), Hyderabad, India to work in their in vitro toxicology group and to establish a zebrafish facility.

Science and Careers

Share a turning point or defining moment in your science/career. 
My Ph.D. was my turning point, where I found myself doing scientific research.

If you could be present for any "Eureka" moment in history (i.e. the moment some scientific discovery was made), which moment would you choose? Why? 
The discovery of transcription factors Sox, Oct and Nanog, through which cell fate can be changed.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in science/research?
Be passionate, hungry, and foolish.

Where do you think the next scientific breakthroughs are going to occur? 
Elon Musk's Neuralink plans to implant chips in human brains to treat neural disorders.

What is the most challenging part about your science or obtaining your career goals? 
Resources - the chemicals and supplies needed for my work and the equipment.

Outside of work

What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab? 
Reading Philosophy and Spirituality books.

What are you reading right now (not including research papers)? 
The left-hand path of the God

Name a favorite song or musical piece. 
Indian classical music of my mother tongue, Telugu

Favorite place you have lived or visited? 
My hometown, Gudur.

What alternative career would you like to attempt if you could? 
I would like to attempt a career in research business development.

Provide a quote that speaks to you. 
“Think beyond, do beyond”

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