Summer Researcher Emily Hulley

Emily Hulley is just completing her second summer working in the lab on whitefish morphometrics.  Returning students are always a great addition to the lab because they come with existing lab skills and help with the training of the new students experiencing research for the first time.  Emily worked with Chris Thome and Charles Mitz over the last two summers and as she returns to University of Guelph for her last year, we wish her the best in completing her degree and graduating.  Here she describes her summer research.

Emily Hulley, Fourth year Bsc.  Honours Marine and Freshwater Biology student, University of Guelph

I have been studying the effects that formalin and ethanol preservation techniques on the morphometrics and weights of whitefish hatchlings and eggs. I have also been assisting in the research of various chemical, thermal and radiation stressors on the development of whitefish through imaging and morphometrics. Lastly, I’ve been working with cell culturing rainbow trout gonad cell lines (RTG-2 cells) to investigate the different effects that radiation and thermal stressors have on cell survival. 
Outside of the lab, I spend most of my time outdoors hiking/camping, with friends or playing with my kitten.

Emily Hulleytobermory

Meet the Amazing Undergraduates Doing Research this Summer

In a series of posts, I will ask each of the amazing summer students to introduce themselves and their research project.  This summer we have had plenty going on and the research the summer students are doing is greatly impacting our lab.

Charlotte Mitz, Expected Bsc. Honours Biomedical Sciences, University of Guelph, Class of 2015.

Charlotte has been working on our whitefish project, primarily with Chris Thome, a PhD candidate.

I image and perform morphometrics on the whitefish embryos to assist research investigating the effects of various stressors (including chronic morpholine exposure, temperature fluctuations, and the effects of radiation) on whitefish development. I have been culturing rainbow trout gonad cells (RTG-2 cells) to examine the effects of radiation and temperature fluctuations on cell growth and survival.

Outside of work, I’m currently studying for the MCAT and like to spend time with my friends and family.


CSZ Success

The WilsonToxLab regularly attends the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Zoology and this year was no exception.  Indeed, there were nine of us in attendance and lots to see from the WilsonToxLab in terms of presentations.  Mike Galus, Eugene Choi, Casey Mueller, John Eme, Chris Thome, Charles Mitz and Joanna Wilson all presented recent research results from the lab.  In addition, our collaborators at U Regina, Chris Somers and Richard Manzon, had students from our whitefish project presenting: Carly Graham, Becca Eberts, Dan Stefanovic and Katy Session all gave great whitefish talks.  Go Team Whitefish!  Since most of Team Whitefish was at the Montreal meeting, we stayed an extra day for a project meeting making this an extremely useful trip for our research program.

This year, the meeting was in Montreal and a bit unusual as CSZ partnered with two other Canadian societies (Ecology and Evolution and Limnological) for the first ever joint meeting.  That added a whole new flair and the opportunity to see a much wider range of science.  The plenary presentations were excellent and I really enjoyed the Fry Medal presentation to Dr. Glen van der Kraak from U Guelph.  Glen is a great scientist and it was wonderful to see him talk at length about the intersections of his basic (fish endocrinology) and applied (endocrine disruption) research streams.  It is a much deserved award.

There was a bit more politics at this meeting than usual and it came on two fronts: women in STEM and the role of science in public policy.  CSZ had a panel of all male invited speakers and award winners and apparently there was some animated discussion on the society Facebook page about why there were no women.  An invited speaker even started his talk by commenting on the lack of women giving plenary presentations and why he felt this was a problem.  What was interesting was the discussion and response from CSZ.  They have collected some data, recognized this is an issue, and formed a group to discuss how to fix the issue.  Amongst members that were discussing this at the meeting with me, there was solid support for change.  So I say good for CSZ for responding to the comments quickly, with an open mind and the motivation for change.  We need young women in science fields to see that things are getting better.

The second interesting change was all the discussion about scientists engaging in public policy and advocacy for the role of science in society.  I haven’t seen this at a conference before and it reflects the ongoing belief that our current government is anti-science.  Interesting discussions all round this topic for sure.

When PBS comes calling

Getting interviewed by journalists has to be one of the most uncomfortable things for a scientist to experience.  You want to be accurate, clear, concise.  You want to share important information in a way that is accessible to everyone.  The problem is that we are used to talking in terms that make things less clear – we don’t talk in black and white but in grey.  We speak in very technical language to other people who are used to speaking likewise, not with people who need plain speak.  Communicating our ideas becomes problematic when things aren’t yes or no.  With practice, I hope to get better at this.

Recently, I was approached by  a science journalist at PBS’ Nova Next about being interviewed for an article about human drugs in the environment.  As this is something we focus on in the Wilson lab, I agreed and sent some of our recent publications.  As always, I asked for a copy prior to print and as always, I didn’t get one.  Weirdly, I found out this was published by a colleague emailing to ask, “Did you really say that?”  which is not a good sign.  In the end, there are a few misquotes but much of the article is correct and interesting.  So what is wrong?

1. Human drugs are in the environment because we take drugs, not because we dispose of drugs incorrectly.  Yes, you shouldn’t flush unused medication down the toilet but we excrete the drugs, or a metabolite of the drug, from our body (i.e. pee them out).  This is the major contributor to drugs in the environment.

2. Acetaminophen, but not all drugs, are well removed by conventional wastewater treatment.  Acetaminophen, and some other drugs, are removed at rates up to 95-98% BUT other drugs, like some antidepressants and mood stabilizers, pass through wastewater treatment plants untouched.  This is a major point because we don’t yet have the solutions to water treatment.

So with these corrections in mind, feel free to follow the link to an article that quotes me profusely….

Seminar at the U of R

I recently visited the University of Regina to give a seminar in the department of Biology. I have two collaborators in the department, Drs. Chris Somers and Richard Manzon. They are two important collaborators on our whitefish research, studying the effects of multiple stressors (temperature, chemicals, and radiation) on developing whitefish. My seminar was not on whitefish research though, but on our pharmaceutical research. My talk, Pharmaceuticals in Water: The Health Implications for our Fish, was gratifyingly well attended and followed by a social event that was a lot of fun.

While I was there, we had an extended whitefish research meeting, followed by some discussion with Dr. Somers’ lab. Dr. Somers happens to have a lab full of women and he asked me to talk about my experiences as a female professor. Its a strange thing to be viewed as a possible mentor for women in science; not because I lack opinions on the topic, but more because it comes from a view that I am successful at it. For most women in science, including me, I think that it is sometimes difficult to see your own success. Indeed, I was asked where my confidence came from and my first thought was “Am I confident?”. So my advice for younger women researchers came down to a few key things.

1. Be aware of your own difficulties to describe your strengths objectively. Indeed, if you aren’t uncomfortable with what you’ve said (in a cover letter, grant etc) about your expertise, you’ve probably undersold yourself significantly.

2. Try not to listen to the negative because there will always be negative. This is best done by surrounding yourself with supporters and asking their opinion first.

3. Pay attention to how people are introduced and if they don’t offer the same level of formality to you, correct it. If everyone else is called Dr. so-and so; your title should be used too.

4. Don’t assume that women are any better at being unbiased. Everyone needs to look for the potential for gender or racial bias; both in themselves and in the processes they take part in. That way, we can be part of the solution.

I’m not sure if this is all I would talk about should I be asked this again. Certainly, its something I’ve been thinking about a lot since. Its the first time a male colleague has ever asked me this and I’m grateful to it isn’t just the women thinking about these things.