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Next leader in biomedical research receives prestigious Vanier award

McMaster PhD candidate, Beth Culp

The future is bright for McMaster PhD candidate, Beth Culp, one of only 165 students in the country who received a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship this year.

The Vanier award is valued at $50,000 per year for three years during doctoral studies and considers three equally weighted evaluation criteria: academic excellence, research potential, and leadership.

The Government of Canada launched the Vanier CGS program in 2008 to strengthen Canada’s ability to attract and retain world-class doctoral students and to establish Canada as a global centre of excellence in research and higher learning.

“When I applied for the Vanier award I didn’t think I’d get it, said Culp, trainee at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, working in Gerry Wright’s Lab. “When the results were coming in I thought there’s no way I’m going to get it so I just went about my day as normal and then I couldn’t believe it. I was just really lucky.”

But it takes more than just luck to pursue the challenging biomedical research Culp is performing in the lab. Culp’s current research project in the Wright Lab focuses on identifying new antibiotics through genetic approaches. She hopes to uncover new molecules and natural products from Actinomycetes, a family of bacteria that are prolific producers of antibiotics.

“The hope is that I’m going to mine these strains we already have and try to get more out of them in the hopes that some of these molecules will be antibiotics,” explained Culp.

“Beth’s project is extremely challenging, but will be highly impactful when complete,” said Wright. “She is well on her way to becoming a leader in biomedical research.”

In 2015, Culp was honoured with the Governor General Silver Academic Medal, given to the highest achieving undergraduate student. In 2016, she received the Fred and Helen Knight Enrichment Award from the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, which recognizes the most promising new gradate student.

Culp also demonstrates strong leadership skills as the go-to lead person on the synthetic biology team in the lab and is an ongoing mentor to new undergraduates.

Aside from her academic achievements, Culp is an accomplished pianist, trumpet player, and runner and encourages her fellow colleagues to get out of the lab to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Culp is uncertain about the direction she wants to take in her career but for now, she knows she loves her work in the lab, focusing on drug discovery.

“The most rewarding part about my work in the lab is when you discover something new and something works. There is so much out there to learn and it takes your whole life just to scratch the surface.”