Fellowships and falls at McMaster University

Posted on: 6 October 2023 by Sara Chowdhury in October 2023 posts

Sara Chowdhury standing behind the McMaster University sign, under a large tree with flowers to the foreground

Sara Chowdhury is a final year PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Systems Biology. She was recently selected for a Turing Fellowship, spending the summer conducting research at McMaster University in Canada. Here she tells us about her trip.

This year I was honoured to be selected for a Turing Fellowship, a programme that enabled me to spend two months on a research placement at McMaster University. For an early career researcher like myself, this was a great honour and an invaluable opportunity. It provided not only collaborative research experience and fresh perspectives, but also the chance to cultivate a diverse set of soft skills and immerse myself in a different culture.

My research

My PhD research focuses on elucidating metabolic alterations induced by antibiotic challenge in uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) so that the phenotype can be better defined. However, for the McMaster fellowship, my objective was to understand the genetic makeup of the UPEC strains for a better understanding of their resistance mechanisms, leading to two-pronged (genotypic and phenotypic) investigation of the resistant mechanisms of UPECs in my research.

My placement was at the Wright Lab in the modernised Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery at McMaster University. The lab consisted of approximately 25 graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and technical staff with a research aim of antibiotic discovery and addressing antimicrobial resistance. After completing biosafety training, I gained access to the labs and various facilities, both online and offline. This allowed me to actively engage in lab work and discuss about my research with the team. I frequently interacted with the supervisor, either in person during his morning lab visits or through scheduled Zoom meetings for my detailed work updates. During their group meetings, I gained invaluable insights into their innovative concepts and biochemical approaches to antibiotic discovery, which significantly broadened my perspective.

Through collaborative efforts and a thorough analysis of the genomic data, I was able to figure out the resistance genes present in my UPEC collection significant to my research. Since mining of genome sequences is widely accepted in investigating antimicrobial resistance, this work will pave the way to categorise and identify the resistance mechanisms of the isolates based on cluster analysis when challenged with antibiotic. Eventually, it will strengthen the existing and future results of my metabolomic, and bioanalytical approaches conducted in our lab in Liverpool. 

Top tips for a successful fellowship

For those considering a fellowship at McMaster University, I have a few tips:

  1. Given the short duration of the fellowship, it's crucial to select the right supervisor and schedule a detailed pre-arrival online meeting with them. If possible, plan the specific tasks you intend to accomplish each week during your stay and discuss them with your supervisor before your arrival.
  2. Arrange for administrative matters such as access cards and ID to be sorted out before your arrival. This proactive approach can save a significant amount of time.
  3. International fellows who do not possess a Canadian visa must consider the substantial waiting period required to secure one.

Outside the lab

McMaster University is situated in the city of Hamilton, which boasts over 100 waterfalls and holds the title of the "Waterfall Capital of the World”. If you have a penchant for nature, this city promises a delightful experience. Throughout the summer, I stayed in a serviced hotel on campus not far from the student centre and library. The campus bus station provides access to a variety of destination and on weekends, you can travel to any destination throughout the day for just $10. During my stay I was able to visit Niagara and Toronto. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls is undeniably awe-inspiring and witnessing the CN Tower up close in downtown Toronto, with its incredible panoramic views of the city, was a truly magnificent experience.

My fellowship at McMaster provided a unique opportunity to collaborate with an outstanding research team to enhance my PhD project and immerse myself in Canadian hospitality. I would like to thank Professor Roy Goodacre, my primary supervisor at the University of Liverpool, Professor Gerry Wright, my fellowship supervisor at McMaster, and Helen Carlin, responsible for international partnerships, for their support. As a Turing Fellow, I encourage other students to participate in what I personally found to be an enriching cross-cultural research experience, contributing to the world-class education provided by the University of Liverpool.

Sara Chowdhury at Niagara Falls