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’Real-world science’

Faculty of Medicine welcomes high school gene researchers

Campus and Community

By Elizabeth Furey

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to research genetics? Three high school students from Newfoundland and Labrador recently got that chance at Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine, thanks to the Gene Researcher for a Week program.

The Gene Researcher for a Week program, provided through the Canadian Gene Cure Foundation, is for high school students who are interested in science, human genetics and human genetics research. The program came to Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine a few years ago and has been successful from the start.

From left: Justin Pater, Francine Burke, Dina Shehata, Rita Huang and Amy Powell.
From left: Justin Pater, Francine Burke, Dina Shehata, Rita Huang and Amy Powell.
Photo: HSIMS

Three students – Rita Huang and Dina Shehata from St. John’s, and Francine Burke from St. Mary’s – were this year’s chosen participants. Each had the opportunity to work alongside research scientists in a completely unique way, learning the basic tools for gene discovery and seeing how genetic mutations can travel through families and cause a disease.

“This program gave me the opportunity to practice applicable, real-world science,” said Ms. Shehata, who is a student at Holy Heart of Mary High School. “In school, you’re generally stuck only reading about science and procedures. Here, I was finally able to actually do the science and procedures.”

Justin Pater, a PhD candidate in the discipline of genetics, was one of their supervisors for the week. He said the program is important because it exposes young people to genetic research and things they wouldn’t normally see in their classrooms.

“Growing up in a rural community, science opportunities like this were regrettably scarce for me,” said Mr. Pater. “When the program was described to me in a meeting, I jumped on the opportunity to supervise and develop curriculum for the students during their stay here at the Faculty of Medicine.”

Due to the high number of students that apply, students were selected based on academic performance, an interest in pursuing a career or education in human genetics and written essays.

“It has been wonderful to see young people so interested and engaged in genetics research,” said Amy Powell, M.Sc. student and the other supervisor for the week. “This experience will hopefully spark an excitement about their upcoming undergraduate science studies, and the possible career paths that are available to them.”

Ms. Powell’s hopes may just come true.

“I hope to pursue a pharmacy degree at Memorial,” said Ms. Huang, a student at Holy Heart of Mary High School. “And then study medicine in the future.”

“I’m planning to become a biomedical scientist and evaluate treatments for various diseases,” said Ms. Burke, a student at Dunne Memorial Academy. “I can’t wait to start my bachelor of science degree at Memorial in September!”

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