BCDRN Trainee Spotlight: Dr Emily Wilts, PDF, UBC Vancouver

BCDRN Trainee Spotlight: Dr Emily Wilts, PDF, UBC Vancouver

This quarter we shine a spotlight on BCDRN trainee Dr Emily Wilts.  Emily is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow in the Kieffer Laboratory in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences in the Life Sciences Institute at the UBC Vancouver campus. Learn more about Emily and what brought her to Canada to pursue her passion for polymers and living abroad in Shanghai.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Oradell, New Jersey, the suburbs of New York City.

What did you study in your undergrad and where?

I went to Penn State University and earned a BS in Chemistry and minor in Chinese Language. I then moved onto Virginia Tech for my PhD where I researched new biodegradable and water soluble polymers for 3D printing.

What got you interested in diabetes research?

My PhD didn’t focus on specific diseases and knowing how many people worldwide are affected by diabetes, I knew I wanted to help find a cure. I also saw an opportunity for how my expertise in polymers could help for cell therapies even though I don’t have a biology background. I wanted to try and design polymers specifically for immune protection for encapsulation of islets using methods and polymers never tried before in the diabetes world.

How far along are you in your degree and what do you hope to achieve in 2021 with your research?

I just completed my first year of a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship and I hope to characterize the immunomodulatory polymers I synthesized this year. These polymers will be used in the future for islet encapsulation if they demonstrate immune protection. All polymers have recently been implanted in mice and histology will tell if they functioned properly in the next few weeks!

Any funny stories to share with the trainee community?

Working with rodents has been a big challenge for me during this Postdoc position. My first time working with rats I was a little nervous. Rats like to be cuddled and held and while I was bonding with one of rats, I didn’t realize how much they defecate especially when they could probably sense I was nervous. I ended up walking around the room stepping in excrement and you could imagine the amount of clean up that required! At least the rat was happy 🙂

Any advice for trainees starting out on how to connect with colleagues?

Attend any event LSI or UBC has for trainees to meet people from different labs. It’s difficult to meet people especially when you only see your own group every day! It’s also great to set up informational interviews with as many professors as possible when you just start out. You’ll learn their expertise and can easily reach out if you ever need help.

What was your favourite research event/meeting to attend?

I really loved TMM2020 because it was my first big conference about diabetes research. They had an awesome virtual platform (that looked like a conference hall and reminded me of in person events!). I was able to network with all the big names in polymer encapsulation for islets which was a huge help for my research.

The past year has been a pandemic and travel has been restricted. When travel is allowed, where do you want to go and why?

I would LOVE to go back to China. I studied abroad in Shanghai and wanted to go back after I finished my PhD (in 2020). I love the food and discussing daily life with locals. I learn the most when I push myself into situations that are out of my comfort zone and I crave that feeling I had the first time I visited.


Want to connect with Emily?

Emily’s Linkedin Profile: linkedin.com/in/emilywilts


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