The accidental scientist
It was to be a marriage of convenience, this encounter, lasting for three years, no more. And then, I would most certainly move on. That was the plan. Although I had a notion of what I wished to gain by the end of this experience, the time in between remained a mystery. I was young, naive, and brimming with idealism, yet I felt a certain apprehension about this new adventure. It had all happened so fast, and now here I was about to uproot myself and move to Montreal like a bride to New France, not knowing what kind of life I was about to begin.
It had only been two years since I graduated from university. I should’ve been happy. I had a high-paying job, a comfortable lifestyle, and no debt. Yet, I wasn’t. I remember thinking, is this it? Is this what I studied four years for? It wasn’t enough; I needed more. And so, here I was, ready to trade in the familiar and the secure for uncertainty and a drastic change in lifestyle. I was going back to school.
Until this point, I had not imagined myself doing research. Sure, I was critical, analytical, rational, curious, and creative, but somehow I never connected these dots to research. Maybe it was that ill-fated grade 12 biology lab experiment when I sliced a poor, unsuspecting worm in sagittal section instead of making a gentle, superficial incision to expose the structures beneath the peritoneum. My lab partners, horrified by my lack of surgical precision, demoted me to note-taker for all subsequent dissections.
During my undergraduate years, lab work was an integral component of my health professional program. Yet, despite doing well, I remained largely unenamored with scientific experimentation – at least fundamental or laboratory-based research.
My MSc program at McGill would change all that.
Before coming to McGill, my notion of ‘scientist’ was a largely stereotypical one, in which a white lab coat-clad social misfit toiled away in his/her lonely lab for years on end conducting highly esoteric experiments with no real-world applicability. While that character sketch is not necessarily a fiction, it fails to recognize all the other types of non-laboratory scientific research being conducted.
At McGill, I was exposed to ‘clinical research’, in which people are recruited to participate in an experiment in order to answer a specific scientific question. My experiment was a randomized controlled trial of patients with untreated high cholesterol. We sought to answer whether prescribing a cholesterol-lowering medication affected patients’ concurrent efforts to adopt a healthy lifestyle. It was a formative experience, requiring me to play many diverse roles, including scientist, clinician, teacher, counselor, and entrepreneur. I had no idea at the time just how much I would love research and its many creative opportunities.
That was 12 years ago. Scientific research, rather than being a stepping stone, has instead evolved to become a core element of my professional career, complementing my clinical work and continually inspiring me to ask why.