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International Women’s Day Q&A Spotlight on Kara Tsang

The pursuit of learning is something Kara Tsang cherishes, especially as a female scientist. Kara is an IIDR trainee in the McArthur Lab, MSc student in the Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences program at McMaster and executive member of the McMaster Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Initiative.

In her International Women’s Day Q&A spotlight, Kara talks about her passion for detecting antimicrobial resistant efflux pumps; her dream job to be a physician-scientist focused on translating big data; and her advice to aspiring female scientists to keep learning.

What is your educational background and what are your academic pursuits?

I completed my undergraduate degree at McMaster University in the first cohort of the Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization program. This program fostered my passion for scientific discovery and highlighted the importance of basic and translational research. Currently, I am working on completing my MSc degree in Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences and I plan to apply to an MD/PhD program.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on detecting antimicrobial resistant (AMR) efflux pumps in clinical genomic sequences to predict their antibiotic profile using bioinformatics approaches. Efflux pumps are transport proteins that expel antibiotics and other toxic compounds (e.g., metals and detergents) within the bacterial cell into the external environment.

My research builds upon existing resources to understand efflux pumps as potential targets for the design of efflux pump inhibitors, attenuate virulence, or prevent biofilm formation.

What are the real world applications of your research?

AMR efflux pumps are a serious threat to the treatment of patients with infectious diseases as they are increasingly contributing to resistance against commonly used antibiotics. The ability to detect efflux pumps in clinical samples and accurately predict the drugs they confer resistance to is a step towards bridging the gap between basic science research and real-world clinical outcomes.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to be a physician-scientist who focuses on translating big data to solve real-world questions with significant clinical impact. Particularly, I am interested in using interdisciplinary approaches to develop better diagnostic techniques and treatment strategies for infectious diseases.

What do you love most about being an IIDR trainee?

I love how the IIDR fosters and promotes interdisciplinary training, which allows me to explore a research problem from many unique perspectives through the collaboration and support from all IIDR members. This is how my project became a cross-disciplinary effort between biochemistry, computer, data and information science, bioinformatics, and medicine that works in a concerted manner to combat the global antibiotic resistance health crisis.

What is your proudest accomplishment in your academic career thus far?

My proudest accomplishment has been the development of novel bioinformatics models that can be used to detect specific AMR determinants, which has led to two authorships in my academic career thus far.

What do you hope to achieve at the IIDR?

My goal is to develop the McArthur lab’s own Comprehensive Antibiotic Resistance Database and Resistance Gene Identifier into the most scientifically accurate AMR efflux pump database and bioinformatics detection tool in the field. I will achieve this goal by integrating my own talents with the expertise of experienced and passionate researchers in the IIDR.

What is your advice for aspiring female scientists?

As a female scientist, my advice is to constantly keep learning. Learn about yourself, what you enjoy, what you’re curious to learn about. Learn about the gender gap in science and how it impacts women of all ages in the field. Always remember your work is just as important as anyone else’s. It’s important to be informed about yourself, the field of science, society, and how you will play a role. I’m constantly being humbled by how much there is to learn.

Why should women and girls be interested in pursuing a career in science?

Pursuing a career in science is worthwhile, rewarding and thrilling. You get to be at the forefront of developing revolutionary technologies and unveiling beautiful discoveries. As a woman in a male-centric field, you can voice your perspective about the fundamental differences between men and women to overcome the gender-based barriers that currently exist.

Do you have a female mentor? What are the benefits of having a mentor?

I have female mentors who continuously provide guidance, support, and encouragement. You can’t lose anything from having a mentor; they share their experiences, act as a sounding board, provide insights into navigating your career, and prepare you for problems they have confronted.

The theme for International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change” which encourages women to declare what bold action they will take to help drive gender parity. What do you currently do, or what will you do to “Be Bold for Change” in 2017?

I am currently an executive member of McMaster Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Initiative, a team of students whose main objectives are to create a supportive network of female mentors, organize issue-specific education for students, and facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and communication. In 2017, my goal is to increase involvement in WISE events to promote opportunities for students to meet mentors and be educated about the current issues that exist for women in science and engineering.

What kind of WISE events/initiatives have you been a part of?

Every month, WISE invites a female industry leader or faculty member to talk about their career path, maintaining a work-life balance, and their perspectives as well as contributions towards addressing gender-based issues in industry and academia. In addition, we organize our annual multi-disciplinary research conference called, Current Research in Engineering, Science & Technology (CREST). This year’s conference will take place on March 10 and 11 and showcases research by female students in science and engineering and integrates professional development and educational workshops with networking opportunities.

Look out for our Q&A spotlights on women at the IIDR throughout March and learn about their fascinating research, achievements, advice for women in science and what they’re doing to #BeBoldForChange in 2017.


Ciara McCann