Meet Camila, Nynke and Yangyang for Postdoc Appreciation Week

Postdoc Appreciation Week is this week, from September 19 to 23! The GSA is glad to join UCalgary Research and Post Doctoral Association of the University of Calgary to celebrate UCalgary postdocs and to highlight three current UCalgary postdocs Dr. Camila Queiroz, Dr. Nynke van den Hoogen, and Dr. Yangyang Fang. Learn about them and their advice for you if you are interested in becoming a postdoc in the future.

Camila Queiroz, DVM, MSc, PhD

First and foremost, can you introduce yourself?

I am a veterinarian from Brazil, and since the beginning of vet school I’ve been interested in Parasitology and Public Health. My first contact with research was when I was awarded an Undergraduate research experience scholarship from the Brazilian government, and I worked in this Parasitic disease’s laboratory for 4 years. After graduating, I completed a master’s degree in Medical Science and then got a job in Food Safety Inspection at the Government. Although I loved my job, I started missing research after 4 years, then I decided to take a PhD. Then in 2016, I came to University of Calgary to pursue a PhD in Veterinary Medicine under the supervision of Drs John Gilleard and Michel Levy, investigating the occurrence of anthelmintic resistance in gastrointestinal nematodes of sheep.

For what reasons did you become a postdoc?

My PhD was a life changing experience. I can’t express how much I learned, not only specific techniques, but also about research and career planning. I knew I wanted to work in research, although I was also open to opportunities at the government and industry. At the end of my PhD, I realised I was not done with research just yet, and that there was still a lot of techniques I wanted to learn. So, I decided to apply for a post-doc.

What was your path to being a postdoc?

Looking at post-doc funding opportunities, I saw this opportunity of a collaborative post-doc fellowship program at Saint George’s University, in Bahamas, and decided to apply for it, together with Dr. Gilleard. I got the fellowship to establish a partnership between Saint George’s University and University of Calgary.

What does your day look like as a postdoc?

I have a good combination of lab work and computer analysis/results writing work. I also have some opportunities to teach, both at Saint George’s and at university of Calgary, which I really enjoy.

What do you enjoy the most being a postdoc?

I think the main difference compared to my PhD is that, besides not having a thesis to write, instead of having one main project to work with, I have multiple collaborative projects. This is what I like the most, because it makes me be in touch with different topics and also allows me to expand my network.

What advice do you have for graduate students who wish to be a postdoc in the future?

Make sure you network, so you’re aware of positions and funding opportunities that are not posted. Also, follow researchers you like on LinkedIn and Twitter.

What hobbies do you enjoy besides being a postdoc/researcher?

I love to travel with my husband and 1 year old son Antonio. I also enjoy reading, watching movies and dancing.

Nynke van den Hoogen, PhD

First and foremost, can you introduce yourself?

Hi! I am Nynke, a postdoc in the Pain and Poppies lab led by Prof. Tuan Trang. I study the effects pain and opioids have in early life, and how they can affect pain vulnerability throughout the lifespan. In addition, I contribute to projects on chronic pain, in particularly looking at cannabis pain management and sex differences.

For what reasons did you become a postdoc?

I am, and have always been, very passionate about science! I used to be the kid that would not stop asking the question ‘why’, and who wanted to know exactly how everything worked. Growing up with family members experiencing chronic pain, I aimed my curiosity towards the human body, why we experience pain, and why some treatment work better than others. By continuing in science as a postdoc, I hope to help solve a piece of the puzzle of why people have different vulnerability for developing pain disorders.

How long have you been a postdoc?

I have been a postdoc for almost 4.5 years, of which 3 years at the University of Calgary.

What was your path to being a postdoc?

Being from the Netherlands, my path looks a bit different than some others. I completed a BSc in Biomedical Sciences and a MSc in Fundamental Neuroscience, both at Maastricht University in Maastricht, the Netherlands. During my MSc, I spent time at the department of Anaesthesiology and Pain Management, in the lab of Professor Bert Joosten. He offered me a PhD position, which I completed in roughly 3 years (the average PhD there is 4 years). I started out as a postdoc in the same lab, and moved to Calgary 1.5 years later.

What does your day look like as a postdoc?

That differs every day, which is the part of the job I love most! Most days are filled with experiments, data analysis, and a bit of writing of both fellowship/grant applications and manuscripts. Next to this, I spend time training students in the lab, or teaching classes. Another cool part of my job is being able to represent other postdocs in my role as Postdoc Representative within the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

What do you enjoy the most being a postdoc?

A big benefit of a career in science are conferences – it means you get to talk to your peers, network with famous scientists, hear the latest science, and explore different parts of the world!

What advice do you have for graduate students who wish to be a postdoc in the future?

If you are passionate about science and want to pursue a postdoc career, go for it! My advice would be to talk to current postdocs to see what their experiences are. I would also advice to have a look at different supervisors, as everyone has their own management style and some may fit your work style better than others. The most important thing to remember: treat your own postdocs well!

What hobbies do you enjoy besides being a postdoc/researcher?

I have really gotten into hiking since moving to Calgary! Besides that, I love to cook and explore new restaurants, go to concerts, or attempting to learn a new song on the guitar.

Yangyang Fang, PhD

First and foremost, can you introduce yourself?  

Hi! I am Yangyang Fang, I am a postdoctoral associate in the department of Community Health Sciences under Dr. Joanna Rankin & Dr. Tiffany Boulton. I am from China but I grew up in the Netherlands, and I lived in London, New York, and Milan before moving to Calgary for my PhD in 2015. I’m also mom to two sweet little boys (4 and 1yr old).  

How long have you been a postdoc?  

I started my postdoc this July. Our project explores a novel community-based and peer-led mental health support in the form of a radical mental health doula (RMHD) as a means to address gaps and failures in the current mental health system. We work with people with lived experiences of mental health struggles as co-researchers to design a grassroots support resource that upholds their rights and dignities, and that is tailored to their needs. We are currently developing the mental health doula curriculum and will be implementing the training and pilot early next year.   

What was your path to being a postdoc?  

Long and twisted, preceded by five degrees and a dozen years in post-secondary! I don’t think my path into postdoc-hood is very conventional because I don’t have a linear educational background. I joke that I know a little about a lot of fields, but not a lot about any of them. I began my studies in the Liberal Arts (law, psychology, journalism, political science, molecular biology), then went into Fine Arts, then got a grad degree in Social and Cultural Psychology, another in Art Therapy, and for my PhD in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies I somehow ended up in the school of medicine. My professional experiences are also spread across different industries and settings including media production, consulting, and non-profit work. But I did always have a passion for mental health, social justice, and research; so it’s not entirely random that I am now doing this work.. 

What does your day look like as a postdoc?  

There’s not really a “typical” day as I juggle many different roles and most of our research is conducted in community rather than in a lab. Some of my tasks include organizing and planning project activities, managing relationships with community partners and stakeholders, and of course – data collection and analysis. I also do grant writing, supervise practicum students, and will be teaching a grad level course next semester. So it’s a bit of everything. To be the most productive, I try my best to schedule all my meetings on certain days of the week and try to block off time specifically for emails (there are so…many…emails!). I also try to reserve one day per week for reading and professional development, just to keep on top of relevant literature and develop new skills (there’s some cool stuff in the Taylor Institute that I recommend everyone to check out). 

What do you enjoy the most being a postdoc?  

I would have to say my team. My Co-PIs are both mothers and understand what it’s like to run a family next to a full-time job; I appreciate the trust they put in me to do both well and the flexibility and independence that comes with that trust. I also enjoy the non-hierarchical “culture” of our team where it really feels like we are co-creating the research and collectively moving it forward, rather than just doing whatever we’re being told to do. I have a lot of creative liberty and a lot of responsibility, which is great. We also have a phenomenal team of students and a strong and supportive network of community partners and funders. When I was doing my PhD I often felt like I was going at it all by myself – but now I have my team, and I love it. 

What advice do you have for graduate students who wish to be a postdoc in the future?  

To have a financial back-up plan, haha. Seriously though, the postdoc salary is (typically) not very glamorous, so set realistic expectations. I know none of us are in it for the money, we do it because we love research and we’re good at what we do, and for some of us it’s a great/necessary stepping-stone into an academic career. But you have to figure out if this is the right decision for you – talk with your supervisors, talk with your peers, talk with postdocs in your faculties. Then if this is the path you’ve chosen, put all your energy into 1) networking and 2) producing. Some people will land a postdoc based on their CV and publication list, others will get there through references and contacts. But it never hurts to have both.  

What hobbies do you enjoy besides being a postdoc/researcher?  

I feel like when you have little kids, their hobbies become your hobbies. I spend a lot of time building Lego, making crafts, inventing dance moves, running around playgrounds, and reading endless amounts of children books (current favs: “Unstoppable” by Adam Rex and the “Gerald and Piggie” series by Mo Willems). I also enjoy sci fi novels, painting, going on walks with the dog, trying out new recipes, and going to the theatre.