Feb 28, 2023

Humans of LMP: Alexandra Moffat

Programs: Graduate, Inclusive community
Alexandra Moffat

Each month we speak to a member of the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology community and find out more about them as part of an initiative from our Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee (WIDE).

This month we feature MSc candidate and Vice President of Social for the graduate student union CLAMPS, Alexandra Moffat.

Visit the Humans of LMP page to read more stories and nominate yourself or others to be featured.

What are you studying at LMP and why are you interested in studying it?

I am studying developmental neuroscience in Dr. Carol Schuurmans lab, at Sunnybrook Research Institute.

I study the roles of proneural genes, Neurog1 and Neurog2, in neocortical development. Neurog1 and Neurog2 encode basic-helix-loop-helix transcription factors which are required to specify a glutamatergic neuronal identity in the neocortex. The cortex is the ultimate controller of cognition and thinking, it enables language processing, spatial reasoning, thought, emotions, and more. As a result, disorders and diseases involving the cortex dramatically alter one’s life. By studying the mechanisms by which neurogenesis occurs, regenerative therapies can be designed to target these diseases and disorders. 

I enjoy studying neurodevelopment due to its complexity; despite extensive literature, there remains a lot unknown about the brain and how it develops, which leaves lots of room for learning and new discoveries.

The brain is central to who we are: how we think, feel, experience life, and more. For these reasons, I find my work extremely fascinating and exciting. 

What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at LMP?

I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience as the VP of Social on CLAMPS (Confederation of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology Students) over the past year.

In this role, I have had the opportunity to host events (with the support of my juniors, Cori Lau and Cassandra Stan) such as the Halloween Social and Winter Formal Fundraiser (in collaboration with TRP) in support of Let’s Talk Science (St. George, University of Toronto).

I am currently working on planning the annual CLAMPS Wine and Cheese Social, which will take place in the spring.

These events are important because they create a community and provide students with break from the everyday stressors of grad school. It is fulfilling to see people enjoying and creating memories at an event that you have organized.

In addition, I am currently working on designing CLAMPS merchandise (hoodies, sweatpants, mugs, etc.) that will be available for purchase in the upcoming months.

Beyond planning social events, I have had an amazing time on CLAMPS and working with such a creative, hardworking, passionate, inclusive, and welcoming team. 

What was the best career advice you ever received?

If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. Waking up, going to lab/work, and learning every day is much easier when you are doing something you are passionate about. Don’t stay in the program or job you are in, if it doesn’t excite you and bring you joy. 

Additionally, I am sure everyone has heard it a million times (now a million and one): follow your own path and everyone’s path looks a little different. Not everyone will have a straight A to B path, rather, it often looks like a A, B, C, D, …. Z path. So long as you are enjoying what you are doing, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get to or how you got to your destination. 

What has been an important learning experience in your life?

Failures will always teach you more than successes. It is a lot easier to deal with failures when you view them as learning experiences and opportunities for growth.

In grad school, it is hard to remain positive when an experiment doesn’t work, or something goes wrong. During my masters, my lab mates and supervisor have taught me how to take a step back and learn from the mistakes and failures rather than being paralyzed by them. 

Who is an influential person in your life and why?

My supervisor, Carol Schuurmans, has been an extremely influential and supportive figure in my life. When I first joined her lab, in August 2021, I had little to no wet-lab experience, yet she motivated me and invested in my success, which enhanced my capacity to learn.

Carol is one of the hardest working individuals I know, constantly advancing the field of developmental neuroscience, teaching and mentoring students, planning conferences, participating in various committees, and more. No matter how busy, Carol always makes time for her students and takes an interest in their lives.

With Carol’s support and guidance, I was able to write a successful CHIR CGS-M grant application, which would not have been possible without her.

Being in the Schuurmans lab has provided me with many opportunities such as travelling to conferences across Canada, and access to cutting-edge technology and techniques. Carol is extremely supportive of her students; she always believes in and supports our ideas while pushing our limits.

Carol taught me the importance of pushing myself, but to take breaks when needed. There is never a shortage of encouragement, intellectual stimulation, support, or mentoring from Carol. She has made a positive impact on my academic career and personal growth and fostered my love for science. 

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I have a candle and digital drawing business. 

What activities do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Outside of work, I spend time weightlifting and running, reading, seeing friends and family, drawing, going on walks, exploring new things and places, and watching sports. 

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

My favourite album is Stoney by Post Malone and favorite film is Casino Royale or one of the Fast and Furious movies. My favorite novel is either Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens or 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think by Brianna Wiest. 

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Albert Einstein, Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi. 

Where/what is your favourite place?

There are so many amazing places however, I think it is a tie between Italy and Switzerland. 

If you were stuck on a deserted island but had all your basic needs taken care of (i.e. food and water), what two items would you bring with you and why?

A kindle to keep me entertained and a friend or family member for the company.