Dr. Jennifer Gardy graduated with a PhD from SFU’s department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry in 2006, earning the Governor General’s Gold Medal as top graduating PhD student. During her time at SFU, she combined her research in microbial genomics and bioinformatics with science journalism, freelancing for SFU News. After graduation, she kept up both the science and science communication aspects of her career. After a postdoctoral fellowship, she joined the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2009, and was appointed an Assistant Professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health in 2013, where she currently holds a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Public Health Genomics. Her research involves using genomics and next-generation DNA sequence technologies to understand, control, and ultimately prevent infectious disease outbreaks. Since 2008, she’s regularly appeared on science television, guest hosting CBC Television’s long-running documentary series The Nature of Things and Discovery Channel Canada’s nightly science newsmagazine Daily Planet, and in 2014, she released a children’s book with Owlkids Books called It’s Catching: The Infectious World of Germs and Microbes. She was named one of the YWCA’s 2014 Women of Distinction in the Science, Technology, and Research Category, and regularly mentors younger scientists interested in science communication.
Why did you choose to go to SFU?
As a high school student from the Interior, I visited SFU & was attracted to its location on the Mountain. With the offer of an entrance scholarship, I immediately accepted and was very pleased to do so.
Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?
Squirreled away in a former freezer! Fiona’s lab was the first real bioinformatics group on campus, and our first “dry lab” home – our computer room – was in an old walk-in freezer in MBB that had been converted into a small office. I spent many a happy year churning out data in there, but can’t say I missed the place when we finally moved across the hall into bigger quarters (with a window!).
What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?
Convocation Day was really something special – being piped in and coming down the stairs into an architectural landmark was like nothing else. That was also the day SFU celebrated its 40th anniversary by recognizing 40 of its beloved community members with the SFU President’s Award at the convocation ceremony, and I think it really speaks to the community atmosphere on the campus when Parminder Parhar, the beloved Renaissance Coffee proprietor, took the stage to receive his award and got the loudest cheer of all. That was a perfect SFU moment to cap a perfect SFU day.
Who was your favourite SFU professor and why?
Fiona Brinkman! She is, simply put, the best role model, mentor, and champion that a young scientist could have. She’s an academic star, a great communicator, a wise mentor, and just a wonderful person to be around – choosing to do a PhD with her was one of the great decisions of my life.
How has your SFU degree impacted your career?
I simply would not be where I am today without my SFU experience and degree. It opened the door to academic knowledge, which is clearly awesome, but more importantly it taught me how to be a true scholar – an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and creative academic. These are all things I put to work every day – working with diverse stakeholders, testing out new and crazy ideas and novel lenses for looking at old problems, communicating creatively with my peers and with the public – and I really developed those skills as a result of SFU’s environment.
What is your favourite SFU snow story?
I loved snow days – as a grown-up, it’s so rare to experience that thrill of hearing on the radio at 7am that school’s been cancelled for the day. Sure, come grad school you’re more likely to spend the snow day lounging in pyjamas and drinking a beer instead of tobogganing and having hot chocolates, but c’mon – that feeling of playing hooky? Of having a free day just for you? It’s magic!
If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?
Is it frowned upon to say my best advice is that grades and classes aren’t everything? That so much of what you’ll take away from university are the spaces between the lines – the extracurricular activities, the relationships, the learnings from outside the classroom? There’s a tendency to see the hill as the 9-5 place – go, learn, come home when the last class ends. Don’t do that. Stay, join clubs, volunteer, get involved. That’s what will shape your post-university life. That’s what will let you shine.
What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?
Renaissance Coffee. Seriously, that place is an institution.