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Bioscience Student David Datzkiw on Research and Being a QE Scholar

David DatzkiwThe Faculty of Graduate Studies recently caught up with David Datzkiw to talk about his research in India and how being a Queen Elizabeth Scholar has contributed to his research and university experience.

What program are you currently enrolled in at The University of Winnipeg and what led you to this program?
I am currently enrolled in the Bioscience, Technology and Public Policy master’s program at the University of Winnipeg, studying the phospho-regulation of a key enzyme involved in cancer (NMT1), under Dr. Anuraag Shrivastav. I was already involved with Dr. Shrivastav’s lab during my honour’s degree, and pursuing the Bioscience master’s program allowed me the opportunity to continue my research in an official capacity. What attracted me to the research and graduate program offered at the UofW was the level of autonomy it gave me to design my research project, the level of time/attention from my supervisor, and the intimate academic environment it provided. This is in contrast to larger universities with large-scale research groups, where being a master’s student means that you are likely near the bottom of a hierarchy of several PhD students and Post docs, with less power over the direction of your project.

Tell us about your research project work in India.

I had the opportunity to research for 6 months at the National Institute of Science, Education and Research (NISER – Bhubaneswar, India), under the supervision of Dr. Palok Aich. The main objective for the duration of my research in Dr. Palok’s lab was to investigate the role of a transferase enzyme implicated in cancer, N-myristoyltransferase 1 (NMT1), with regards to the model systems employed by Dr. Aich. Specifically, we studied the molecular processes involved with pancreatic cancer, its interaction with cells of the tumor micro environment (adipose and macrophage cells), and its response to probiotic bacteria (Lactobacillus bulgaricus). During my time in India I also published an extensive literature review analyzing the microbiome of the human gut and its relation to metabolic diseases such as irritable bowel disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

Tell us a little bit about what it’s like to be a Queen Elizabeth Scholar.

So far it has been a privilege to be a Queen Elizabeth Scholar (QES). As a QES I have been given the freedom to not only research in a different country and network with prominent scientists in my field of study, but the opportunity to immerse myself into a different culture for a significant amount of time as the only international student at my host institute. As a QES I was able to approach and critically analyze aspects of my research through an entirely different perspective, while also finding areas of common ground with my Indian counterparts in how we thought about key concepts.

David's photo of a sunset in IndiaI have also had several opportunities to engage with the community, travel, immerse, and learn extensively about Indian culture, language (Hindi/Oriya) and history during my time in India. Examples of this include outreach opportunities with a rural village in Odisha state and time living in a village within the Sundarbans national park in West Bengal. In both instances, I got to experience village life first hand while sharing about life back in Canada. These types of experiences allowed me to grow on a personal level in some respects, and pushed my capabilities to adapt to extremely different and sometimes difficult circumstances.

As a scholar with the QES program, I felt that I was well prepared for my travel and always felt that I had support and help when needed from the graduate department at the UofW. I appreciate the community that the program is trying to foster. I haven been able to share my experiences with other Queen Elizabeth Scholars from different universities across Canada, and was also given a chance to officially present my research and travels with students and faculty at the UofW.

What advice do you have for those considering graduate studies and Bioscience?

My first piece of advice would be to expose yourself to a few months of research beforehand, if possible (talk to your profs!), to get a feeling of whether research is the right thing for you. Do you see yourself as someone who might create new knowledge, instead of simply applying what is already known? Participating in research is very rewarding, but it is a marathon – usually filled with many late nights and dead ends before something comes to fruition.  You can’t expect instant gratification.

Secondly, prioritize preparation and understanding. Do whatever you can to work with a potential supervisor to prepare and synthesize an idea or hypothesis you’re interested in before you formally start your program. It is important to set up a concrete idea of what you want to accomplish, along with milestones, goals, and well thought out plan B’s (your first line of research may hit a dead end!). By thoroughly understanding what your end goal is and why your future research is potentially impactful, you will have more confidence in both devising new ways of exploring your hypothesis and explaining your research to others.

Lastly, get acquainted with the scholarship/fellowship opportunities available from the various provincial and federal granting agencies. These types of funding competitions take an entire school cycle before the results are announced, thus it is important to apply to them the year before you potentially start your master’s degree. If you want to continue in academia, learning how to navigate the world of grants and funding is essential – this includes learning how to write a proper research proposal and strategies to market your research to a broader audience.

David's photo of lab materialsWhat are your plans for after you’ve completed your master’s degree?

I wish to continue in biomedical research in some capacity, and specifically I’m considering moving more towards the area of regenerative medicine. The majority of my research has focused on molecular oncology, however, my studies on cancer have given me intimate experience studying the cellular signalling of growth pathways also involved in the differentiation and proliferation of stem cells. 

Tentatively, my plans are to pursue a PhD in some area of regenerative medicine. If possible, I would like to join a research group heavily invested into discovery sciences that is also actively involved with clinical partners to facilitate/translate their discoveries into applied medical technologies or techniques.

Photos supplied by David Datzkiw.

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