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Third time’s a charm!

Hi there! My name is Erica and I am a PhD student studying Medical Physics in the Radiation Sciences Graduate Program. I graduated from McMaster University with my BSc (2015) and MSc (2017), but I love this place so much, I’m sticking around for a third degree! Join me through this photo album as I show you why I love McMaster, and how I spent my past year pursuing my academic, professional, and personal passions as a proud Marauder!




“Lab”our of love

My year starts where I spend most of my days - in the lab! As a member of the Farquharson Lab, my project involves developing a tool to detect the margins surrounding breast tumors. By understanding how breast tissue behaves when stimulated with optical light and x-rays, my goal is to give surgeons the ability to know exactly how much tissue to remove in the operating room. Not too little, and risk leaving cancer still in the body, but also not too much and unnecessarily removing completely healthy tissue. I collect breast tissue from patients following scheduled surgeries and measure them using an optical system and x-ray system here at McMaster. I am very fortunate to be working under Dr. Mic Farquharson, whose knowledge and experience makes this project challenging and fun.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

An enjoyable, albeit mandatory, part of being a graduate student is taking fascinating courses. Being in an interdisciplinary program means I have a wide variety of courses to choose from. I have taken courses in biophotonics, radiation detection, and even radiation oncology physics. Taking courses also gives me the opportunity to meet the other incredible graduate students that McMaster attracts.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

After being the teaching assistant for a course called “Physics in Medicine and Biology”, I was given the opportunity to be the instructor for the class for the very first time! This was the greatest teaching position I’d ever held! It was such a unique experience being on the other side, and this position really reinforced the fact that you don’t really know something until you can explain it to others.  On the last day of class in April, we took a photo to commemorate the last time the students had to sit through my lame jokes and dorky enthusiasm for medical imaging and treatment techniques!

The sky is not the limit!

You thought there was no limit before? There really is no limit! We're going even further beyond.

As a founding member of the McMaster Interdisciplinary Satellite Team (MIST), I was completely ecstatic last May to announce that the Canadian Space Agency rewarded MIST a grant to build McMaster University’s first satellite! Not only are the students of the team designing, fabricating, and testing the entire small satellite, but the students are also developing a unique radiation detection system that will give better insight of the radiological risks during human space flight. Through this extracurricular team, I have met so many incredible minds – students, Faculty, staff, and alumni. The McMaster Alumni Association has always been a supporter of our group – even before the CSA!

Leaving the nest

Last summer, I had the pleasure of presenting some of our research at the European Conference on X-Ray Spectrometry in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Conferences are a wonderful way to learn about new technology, innovative methodology, and meet people with similar research interests from all over the world. There was a great showing at the poster session, although I don’t know if they were there to hear about my research or if it was the free beer and pretzels…



Bridge over tepid water

Science communication has always been a passion of mine. One way I get to share my enthusiasm for radiation sciences is as a tour guide for the McMaster Nuclear Reactor. In this role, I lead groups throughout the reactor facilities and share stories of its 60-year history and current operations. My favourite part is standing on the bridge that is right on top of the reactor! For most people, it’s not every day that you get to stand on top of an open reactor and actually see the blue glow (Cerenkov radiation). At McMaster, it’s just a Tuesday afternoon.










Time flies when you’re… explaining your research!

It is important to be able to explain what our research is, but it is even more important to explain why. Last month I participated in McMaster’s Three Minute Thesis competition where graduate students explain their research and its significance within a strict 3-minute time limit using only one static slide! With enough practice, I was able to come in second in the competition. If you ever see me around and you only have 3 minutes, feel free to stop me and ask for a short, and hopefully engaging, presentation!

Spicing things up

“What was your favourite thing about McMaster?” You’ve probably heard this question before. What’s the classic McMaster answer? “It’s the community.” Our campus is home to a diverse population with interests spanning across academic disciplines, world news, sports, music, and anything else you can imagine! I always joked that if you like it, there’s a club for it at McMaster! For me, my interest lies in anything culinary. Handmade pasta, freshly whisked hollandaise, Angolan fish stew, Vietnamese noodle soups, liquid nitrogen ice cream, or Japanese cheesecake. I love it all! About once a week, I assemble some of my fellow grad students and we challenge ourselves to make a new dish no one has made before. It’s the perfect way to unwind after a long day of debugging code, marking assignments, tedious dissections, or writing manuscripts.





Thank you!

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the last year of my studies! It was an adventurous year and I’d like to thank the amazing alumni and generous donors that allow students to have such incredible opportunities. Many of the facilities I used or travel and activities I participated in would not have been possible without support through scholarships, bursaries, grants, or donations. I am unbelievably grateful for the past year I’ve had, and I look forward to my next year at McMaster!