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Lifelong perseverance

PhD student follows her calling from Nigeria to Newfoundland

Student Life

By Rebecca Rebeiro

Wendy Lasisi grew up knowing she wanted to become a scientist and a doctor. Thanks to the Rotary Foundation Global Grant scholarship, she’s fulfilling that dream.

During one high school biology class, Ms. Lasisi’s lifelong career took shape.

“When we had the assignment to draw an animal cell, I was the only one that drew a nerve cell,” she said. “I was so intrigued by the brain, and it was that moment I knew I would pursue neuroscience for the rest of my life, either through medicine or research.”

This newly discovered passion took her from Angola to the United Kingdom for her bachelor of science in neuroscience and later her masters in clinical neuroscience. While figuring out her next step, she discovered Dr. Michelle Ploughman’s research and the neuroscience program at Memorial. Suddenly everything fell into place.

Before pursuing her chosen field, Ms. Lasisi was part of the National Youth Services Corps in her home country of Nigeria.
Photo: Submitted

Parallel interests

“Dr. Ploughman’s work was staring right at me,” said Ms. Lasisi. “After losing two family members to stroke and having a number of people around me with a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis, I knew that I had to be involved in her research. I decided to email her.”

“Wendy’s email was sincere and conversational,” said Dr. Ploughman, an assistant professor of medicine and Canada Research Chair in Rehabilitation, Neuroplasticity and Brain Recovery.

“She knew my work and was able to draw parallels between her interests and mine, so I took notice. However, I did not have a position in my lab at that time. I let Wendy know with a simple response, figuring that’s the last I would hear from her, like other students in the past. But not Wendy.”

Their communication continued over the year via email, and then in person when Ms. Lasisi decided to move to St. John’s. While Dr. Ploughman still did not have a spot for her in the lab, she helped her navigate other options for graduate studies, including applying for the Clinical Epidemiology Diploma program at the Faculty of Medicine.

“Dr. Ploughman is everything that I aspire to be.” — Wendy Lasisi

Undeterred and committed to having Dr. Ploughman as her PhD supervisor, Ms. Lasisi started volunteering in Dr. Ploughman’s lab, on top of completing her graduate diploma.

“Working with Wendy, I learned that she was reliable and paid attention to detail,” said Dr. Ploughman. “This interaction cemented my commitment to helping her achieve her goals. When an opportunity came along to nominate a student for the Rotary Foundation Global Grant scholarship, I did not hesitate.”

Wendy Lasisi at Dr. Michelle Ploughman’s lab.
Photo: Submitted

Dream come true

The scholarship will support Ms. Lasisi’s research within Dr. Ploughman’s Recovery and Performance Lab, where she will take a lead role in analyzing repair within the brains of people with MS using MRI.

“MS is the most common cause of neurological disability among young adults worldwide, robbing them of their vitality during their career and family-building years,” she said.

“My aim is to help address a key void in MS rehabilitation research by examining the underlying brain mechanisms of exercise and ultimately help reduce the severity of the disease’s progression.”

Instrumental contribution

Dr. Ploughman’s lab collaborates with scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute and the Diagnostic Imaging Department at Eastern Health to create specialized rehabilitation training interventions that will not only help a person function optimally but also promote neuroplasticity and repair.

“Wendy will be instrumental in moving this line of research forward,” said Dr. Ploughman.

Preparing to start the next phase of career, Ms. Lasisi has these words for others students, new and continuing: “When failure has visited and everything seems bleak, that’s when a breakthrough is waiting at the corner. Be inquisitive, seek and create opportunities, volunteer, and be patient. Do your part and you’ll eventually achieve your dreams!”

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