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St. John’s to Vancouver – TFRI research takes a Manitoba student from coast to coast

I attended my first TFRI Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) in St. John’s, Newfoundland in May and from the first day it exceeded all of my expectations. It was professional but friendly and the mix of trainees and supervisors allowed even an introvert like myself to feel comfortable networking. Science is highly collaborative and the ASM created an environment in which collaborations, friendships and mentoring relationships could be formed with ease. I was the only trainee from Manitoba and coming to the ASM brought me into contact and conversation with researchers from all across Canada with diverse interests, experiences and expertise.

Terry Fox Research Instittue trainee, Alexandra Ciapala
Alexandra Ciapala, TFRI Rising Star trainee

A prime example of encouraging networking was aptly titled the Networking Café. Trainees were put into pairs for conversations with more senior scientists with diverse backgrounds from industry and academia. We could ask any questions, but what preys on the minds of graduate students is the future. I asked about jobs in academia, how to be competitive and what other career paths are like. I’m sure many others did the same. The mentors gave us their supportive and honest opinions based on their own experience and knowledge. These conversations were amazingly valuable. Another benefit was to see that these great scientists are human too! They went through what we are going through, it was an excellent experience.

The workshops are another example of how the ASM welcomed us into the research community. Supervisors and trainees participated in interactive workshops on topics from Alternatives to Academia to Immunotherapy. Discussion and sharing of knowledge was encouraged and the small groups helped us to get to know one another.

Being a trainee, my big moment was the poster session. As trainees we were able to see the research being done in a variety of fields and our nerves encouraged us to talk and practise our presentations together. There’s nothing like a common fear to bring people together! Presentations were given to two judges and eight other trainees, allowing us to share our research and encourage discussion.

There were other notable moments (the fun singing competition at dinner, my wonderful room mate), but I have gone on and on about networking. The experience was educational as well. We had an excellent array of oral presentations and I learned so much. People gave me advice, told me of new techniques and increased my understanding of the broader picture of cancer research.

The ASM has shown me what a truly brilliant and innovative community has been founded on the hopes of one man who ran a marathon a day across Canada, and I am proud to be part of it. I have come from this meeting having gained knowledge, friendships and mentors. Also, thanks to the TFRI Rising Stars scholarship, I have been given the opportunity to spend this summer in Vancouver at another TFRI funded lab learning a new technique; knowledge that I can bring back with me to further our research and teach to other trainees. I am very grateful for the opportunity.

Alexandra C. Ciapala
M.Sc. student, University of Manitoba

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