Leaping through Lily Pads; Launching for Success

KaylenAs a child, I’d go on canoe adventures with my dad. He would take me to the reeds where we’d admire the stillness of the water. He’d pick me a buttercup flower while we’d enjoy the beauty of lily pads, watch for frogs, and look for ripples when they’d leap from one lily pad to another. This imagery is something I hold dear and captures my unique UWaterloo “lifer” academic adventure.

My first lily pad at UWaterloo was my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences in the Faculty of Science with minors in Biology and Psychology. My degree provided me with a strong background in the natural and social sciences. However, my adverse reaction to blood and the mere thought of illness making me queasy, left me yearning for a way to impact the world around me outside the medical field. I wanted to create ripples!

This experience impacted me profoundly. On top of newfound knowledge and skill, my “buttercup” was as the Assistant Research Coordinator at the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA). The RIA’s mission is to enhance the quality of life and care of older adults through partnerships in research, education and practice. Here, I witnessed both the success and struggle of research projects based on perceived relevance to the end-user. My time at the RIA inspired me to modify my career course and return to study with Professor Heather Keller back at UWaterloo.

Kaylen

This time, my lily pad was in Kinesiology within the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences. During my undergrad I was diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency which impacted my ability to focus; when my B12 levels improved, so did my quality of life. With the UWaterloo Kinesiology department, I set out to investigate the prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency among older adults when they moved into long-term care. With my first-hand experience, and helpful insights gained from RIA, my research was a natural avenue with potential to positively impact older adults. Ripples were forming! My time in Prof. Keller's lab exposed me to the realities and challenges of conducting nutrition research in this vulnerable population. It became clear through my time with her that to study nutrition well, we need better tools! However, the tools must truly meet the needs of the environment.

It was time for another leap… this time my lily pad is Systems Design Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering, so I can build these tools. Winter 2018 is my 5th term into my PhD and I am gaining so much experience. I’m building an imaging system for nutrient sensing as a tool for malnutrition risk assessment. My lily pad leaping has shaped how I approach a problem which fuels my passion and drive. I am grateful to continue this adventure with my supervisor, Prof. Alexander Wong and committee, in an empowering, supportive and nurturing environment. As a woman in STEM, I’m gaining momentum and feel bigger ripples are just around the corner; I am launching for success!

Kaylen

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