Celebrating Waterloo’s finest doctorates

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Profile of Heather IkertEach convocation, the University of Waterloo recognizes and profiles an outstanding PhD student from each Faculty across campus to showcase a glimpse into the hard work, dedication and success of every graduate.

This convocation, the Faculty of Science will welcome new graduates from Science PhD programs, including Heather Ikert from the Department of Biology.

Exiting high school, Heather Ikert (BSc ’16, PhD ’22) was interested in going to Waterloo because of the hands-on experience the co-operative education program offers for students. In her final co-op term, Ikert connected with Prof. Paul Craig for her fourth-year research project, and she would go on to complete her graduate studies in Dr. Craig’s lab.

“All in all, I came to the University of Waterloo for the co-op, but I stayed for the people.”

Graduating with a PhD in Biology, Ikert’s research studied the effects of climate change and pharmaceuticals on fish health, and to understand the molecular mechanisms of how fish respond to general stress.

“I was looking at a type of RNA called microRNA — cells use this to fine tune which processes are occurring,” Ikert says. “Interestingly, I was able to measure these microRNA on the surface of the fish. As well in the water surrounding the fish, which could be a way to non-invasively monitor fish health.”

Ikert has many fond memories at Waterloo, but will never forget the caffeine experiment that her lab decided to perform. As regular patrons of the Math CnD cafe on campus, Ikert and her lab mates were trying to determine if drinking caffeinated or decaf coffee in the afternoon would have a negative effect on the sleep of one of their colleagues.

“The chance to combine our love of coffee with a bit of data analysis for no reason in particular was pretty jokes and a fun little foray into a different area of research,” Ikert says. No negative impact was found at the end of the study.

If she could give one piece of advice to other PhD students, it would be to choose a supervisor and a lab full of supportive people.

“A lot of scientists do cool research but having people to encourage you through the ups and downs of research and working with a supervisor who will prioritize your learning and opportunities for growth, is key,” Ikert says. “The Biology Department at the University of Waterloo o-fish-ially rocks, and the grad students there are super encouraging, involved and are just the best.”

What’s next for Ikert? After completing both a Bachelor and Doctor of Philosophy in Biology, Ikert will remain at the University of Waterloo as part of the Ontario Wastewater Surveillance Initiative, where she will be monitoring COVID-19 trends and variants in the wastewater for the Waterloo, Peel and York regions.