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Forging a Career in Science: A Q&A with IIDR Co-Op Student Jessica Knight

When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in science?

When I was in grade 8 I was introduced to the Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair (BASEF). This local, four-day event is the perfect venue for budding scientists to showcase their work, and I was really amazed by all the innovative projects on display.

The following year I applied to present at the fair. To my surprise, my project, which looked at copper as an antimicrobial agent, placed first, earning me a summer internship position in the Wright Lab at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR).

This internship proved invaluable, as it exposed me to what life was like working in a lab. I learned a lot that summer, everything from how to operate the equipment to how to work effectively and collaboratively with my colleagues.

What are you studying at McMaster?

Next fall I will be entering my third year of my Bachelor’s of Technology. This is a relatively new program, which is a part of McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering. There are three streams within this program: Biotechnology, Process Automation and Automotive Technology. I am pursuing coursework in the Biotechnology stream.

During my first year I studied everything from computer programming to chemistry. Second year was a little more focused, which led me to take courses in biochemistry and microbiology.

You are back in the Wright Lab for a second time. How did this come about?

My program offers a 12-month co-op placement, and I was looking to dedicate this time to working in a lab. Because of my growing interest in the field of antibiotic resistance I chose to come back to the Wright Lab.

How do you spend your day in the lab?

Right now I am assisting a post-doctoral fellow with his research. Together we are investigating the molecular mechanism that causes rifampin phosphotransferase (RPH) – an enzyme widespread in environmental and pathogenic bacteria – to confer high-level resistance to rifampin, a first-line drug against TB.

Most days I am running different polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) on a number of strains of bacteria we believe have potential RPHs.

What is your end goal, in terms of a career?

Following my bachelor’s I want to pursue a master’s degree in Chemical Biology or Biomedical Sciences. I am really interested in research, so I want to continue working in a lab setting. I am also very interested in becoming a professor – teaching biology-based classes would be a lot of fun.

Describe your time at the IIDR

Working at the IIDR has provided me with the foundation I need to build a successful career in science. Every day I have the privilege of working with some of the brightest minds in the field of antibiotic resistance.