Staying curious and embracing lab life on co-op

Genevie Tran (she/her) is in her third year of Biology. She discusses her passion for wet lab research and her advice for staying motivated throughout the work term.

Work term one: For her first work term, Genevie was a student technician at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. At the entomology lab, she processed insect samples, identified their types and sorted them.

Work term two: She was a pancreatic cancer medical research assistant at University Health Network located in Princess Margeret Cancer Centre. Mostly focusing on tissue culture and wet lab research, she grew organoids and fibroblast cells from pancreatic tumor samples. Genevie also had day-to-day lab maintenance responsibilities.

What’s been the best part of your co-op experience so far? 

Genevie captured while looking into a microscope

“I was able to secure an eight-month co-op term and really enjoyed it. During the last four months of the work term, we get to do our own research project. We think about what we want to research and our supervisors lead us through the entire process, showing us how to go about the scientific process and how to run the experiments. I researched the effect of in-vitro culture on fibroblast phenotype, which was something that other people in the lab had never looked at before.”

“That was definitely the most rewarding part because I thought of the entire project from start to finish. I read a lot of papers to catch up on the literature, thought of my experimental design, chose my samples, performed all the experiments, and analyzed the data. In the end, I was able to present all my findings to the entire lab. I was very proud of it - this was a chance to be able to do the whole research project on my own.”


What do you enjoy about doing research? 

“I really enjoy wet lab research. You’re at the lab bench and you’re working with your hands, which is what I love. Working with my hands is something that I want to do in my career, even if it’s not wet lab research. I like being able to gain new skills while exploring different areas of research and getting to try various things in labs allows me to do that.”

“I also love being a part of new and exciting science. In school, we learn about all the basics. But through working in research, I get to learn about and even contribute to new findings.”

What challenges did you face during your work terms?

“The initial part of any work term is challenging because you’re trying to learn new skills and there’s a lot of training. Especially during my first co-op term, a lot of it was self-training when I was identifying and sorting specimens. I would just try to learn from the textbook and figure out how to tell the difference between the insect orders.”

“When I was leading my research project during my last co-op, it was the first time I had ever done a project from start to finish. When I got to the data analysis part at the end, I learned a lot of new things, but it was also challenging because I had never done data analysis before. I had to learn all about the process, the math and the computer programs which was challenging.”

How do you stay motivated during the work term?

“By staying curious. At first, you learn the basics and then you do all the things you are assigned to do. However, some tasks can be repetitive. I try and stay curious about what other projects are going on and what other people are working on in the lab.”

“This was helpful because I was able to continue my learning in other areas, from other people. Even if it’s not part of your title or your role you can still learn new skills and this will keep you motivated!”

A picture of Genevie mid presentation


What’s next for you?

“My next co-op is at the Santerre lab under the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry as a summer research scientist. I’m excited to build on my knowledge from my last co-op and learn more about different areas of research!”

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