Meet two postgraduate students in the UVic Division of Medical Sciences

In the spirit of the back-to-school season, we connected with two Ph.D. students in the Division of Medical Sciences at UVic -- Patrick Reeson and Essie Mehina.

See our interviews with both students below.

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Essie Mehina

emAccording to her supervisor, Dr. Craig Brown, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Essie Mehina is well on her way to a successful research career.

“Essie came to my lab almost a year ago after a very successful MSc program with Dr. Grant Gordon at the University of Calgary. Since arriving, she has achieved top grades in her coursework, won a couple of competitive student scholarships, and published her MSc thesis in the highly regarded Journal of Neuroscience. Essie has played an important role in a recently submitted research article from my lab and is currently working hard on her PhD research, which has generated some exciting new leads.  I look forward to her seeing these new findings come to fruition and for her continued success in the program.”

Below is our interview with Essie, edited for length.

Last year, you received over $17,000 in awards – congratulations! What awards did you get?

Thank you! I was fortunate to receive a University of Victoria Graduate Entrance Award, an Edythe-Hembroff-Schleicher Scholarship, a James A. and Laurette Agnew Memorial Scholarship and the corresponding Travel Award, as well as a competitive Student Travel Award from the BRAIN conference to present at the meeting in Berlin, Germany.

What are you researching, and why did you choose that focus?

Currently my project is focused on studying how the immune cells of the brain, called microglia, respond to small damaged vessels in the diabetic brain. Microglia are the most mobile cells in the brain, so I am looking at both the dynamics of their response to the damage over a chronic period (days and weeks), as well as the underlying mechanisms regulating their response.

My family has a history of diabetes, so I am very invested in discovering more about how the disease develops and progresses. By studying this disease in the context of its effects on brain cells and blood vessels, I’m able to combine my passion for neuroscience with a topic that affects me personally.

You work in Dr. Craig Brown’s lab – what’s that experience been like?

So far, it has been great! Dr. Brown’s lab uses an exciting technique called two-photon microscopy, which allows you to take high-resolution images of cells and structures deep within an intact brain; this allows you to ask interesting questions, as you’re able to follow the fate of individual vessels and cells from week to week. Additionally, the lab is well funded, and there are many great people in the lab who are helpful, motivated, and provide an excellent resource for refining your writing and experiments.

What’s your post-graduation goal?

I am really interested in translational medicine and would like to complete a medical degree to pursue the career of a physician-scientist at a Canadian university. It would be my dream to be able to study the underlying mechanisms of the diseases that I would be treating in the clinic.

What’s something we’d be surprised to learn about you?

I love all sugary things, but my absolute favorite food is gelato!

Any last thoughts?

I am so, so grateful to the generous donors who have provided the funds for many of the awards that are dispersed in the neuroscience program. Receiving these awards supported my choice to pursue my goals in academia, and provided me with the means to be able accomplish those goals.

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Patrick Reeson

prAccording to his supervisor, Dr. Craig Brown, Patrick Reeson is “simply awesome.”

“Patrick is like having a young professor working in the lab,” said Dr. Brown. “He’s basically functioning at that level now.”

Below is our interview with Patrick, edited for length.

What’s your research focus, and why did you choose it?

My work is focused on understanding how the blood supply of the brain responds to large and small obstructions under healthy and diseased conditions. The first part of my PhD focused on the obstructions of larger vessels leading to ischemic stroke in healthy and diabetic brains. In the second half of my thesis, I’ve been studying what happens in a healthy brain when the smallest but most abundant type of blood vessels, called capillaries, become obstructed. The field of cerebral blood flow has always fascinated me; it’s an underappreciated dynamic and a complex system that forms a critical axis of proper brain function.

Your supervisor is Dr. Craig Brown. What’s it been like working with him?

I have been working for Craig for almost seven years now, starting as a volunteer in his lab. Craig has been incredibly supportive as a mentor throughout my evolution as a scientist. Early on as a mentor, he focused not just teaching me the science of the field and its methodologies, but also the rationale and logic of the experiments and the bigger “why?” questions. Now, as I’m finishing my degree, Craig treats me like a collaborator, and gives me the freedom to pursue ideas and manage my experiments. It’s this freedom to shoulder that responsibility, and by extension the freedom to fail, that has really prepared me for a future career as a Principle Investigator running my own lab. 

You were recruited by the University of California in San Francisco, where you’ll start once you’ve graduated. What are you most looking forward to there? What will you be working on?

I am very excited to be joining a world-class laboratory at UCSF. I will be shifting focus slightly to study the cortical circuits involved in vison. The work is definitely the thing I am most looking forward to. 

I understand you enjoy Dr. Who. Best actor in the role so far?

Without question, the best actor in the role so far is Matt Smith. David Tennant and Peter Capaldi are very close seconds, though. That said, I am really excited for Jodie Whittaker to take on the role. It’s about time we had a female Dr. Who, and it will be great to see a generation of young female sci-fi fans grow up with a strong female lead role in such an iconic franchise.

What’s something we’d be surprised to learn about you?

Academic research wasn’t my first career path. After finishing my undergraduate degree in microbiology at the University of Calgary, I went to work in an entirely unrelated field. It was only after a several years in the labor force that I realized that that wasn’t the right path for me, so I made my way back to science. I also have a six-year-old nephew whom I’ve convinced that I am both the tallest man alive and the greatest eater of spicy food to ever live.