"Having this strong community has given me the opportunity to become involved with initiatives that bring together other passionate scientists."

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Student Profile: Kristen Gray

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry PhD student in the Faculty of Science

February 11, 2021
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I am a PhD Candidate in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry department and joint SFU-UBC Bioinformatics program. My research focuses on microbial genomics, particularly investigating pathogenic bacterial species from a genomics perspective. I was drawn to this research area because I find microbes’ dynamic, rapidly evolving nature and their diversity fascinating and I enjoy solving complex problems. Knowing my work will help advance the work of other researchers in the field and provide new tools for public health microbiologist is also very rewarding.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?

I was drawn to SFU by the graduate studies in Bioinformatics program, which is one of few in the country and has seen many successful alumni, as well as the research of my supervisor, Dr. Fiona Brinkman. After completing my undergraduate studies in biology, I was interested in developing my computational skillset and learning more about how programming and software applications are being used to advance genomics. I also developed a keen interest in microbiology, having worked in a microbiology laboratory early on in my program. Dr. Brinkman’s lab allows me to pursue research at the intersection of my interests in a supportive environment with opportunities to engage with other prominent researchers in the field.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RESEARCH OR YOUR PROGRAM TO A FAMILY MEMBER?

My work focuses on developing software for the analysis of genes that are exchanged between microbes in a process known as horizontal gene transfer. Clusters of these horizontally transferred genes, known as genomic islands, commonly encode novel functionality, including genes that enable bacteria to resist treatment by antimicrobials and cause disease. Since these genomic islands can confer traits relevant to pathology, investigating them is critical for informing public health decisions.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?

With a number of research institutions and programs with a bioinformatics focus in the area, Metro Vancouver is a hub for bioinformaticians. Having this strong community has given me the opportunity to become involved with initiatives that bring together other passionate scientists. Within my university community, I have been a leader in the SFU Omics Group, a student-led organization that was the first group at SFU to bring together students, faculty and researchers across different departments with shared interests in bioinformatics. Additionally, I have been involved in organizing Hackseq, an annual three-day event that brings together programmers and scientists to work intensively on problems in genomics and bioinformatics. Being involved in these communities has given me a well-rounded graduate studies experience.

HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR-FUNDED AWARDS? IF SO, PLEASE TELL US WHICH ONES AND A LITTLE ABOUT HOW THE AWARDS HAVE IMPACTED YOUR STUDIES AND/OR RESEARCH.

I have been fortunate enough to receive a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship - Master’s award and an NSERC-CREATE Bioinformatics Scholarship through my graduate program, as well as a Weyerhaeuser Graduate Scholarship, SFU Big Data Graduate Scholarship, and Omics Data Science Initiative Graduate Scholarship from SFU. This past year, I have been awarded a Graduate Student Award of Merit from the Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada for my leadership in my university community. I have also received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship - Doctoral award that will support me through the remainder of my PhD program. These awards have really made my graduate studies possible and alleviated the pressure to take on additional work to support myself through graduate school. This has allowed me to remain focused on my research and apply myself fully to my studies. I am very grateful to have received this support throughout my program.

Contact Kristen: klgray@sfu.ca

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