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A journey of passion and growth in Biochemistry

Sara Crooks, Biochemistry alumni, on navigating challenges and embracing interdisciplinary collaboration.

June 13, 2023 — 

Being lost in your academic journey might be the best thing that happens to you. This might just be the chance to explore your interests and dive into different opportunities. Join us as we talk with the Faculty of Science Biochemistry’s recent alumni, Sara Crooks, as she shares her source of interest in Biochemistry, her biggest struggle and her takeaway from interdisciplinary collaborations.

Congrats on your graduation! We’d love to hear about a pivotal moment or experience that inspired your passion for Biochemistry.

Thank you for your congratulations! I would say that throughout my life, I’ve always had a strong interest in science and learning. In high school, I studied chemistry, where I was fascinated to learn about how the properties and interactions of tiny molecules could explain everything we see in the world. My interest focused on a more health science/biological aspect of chemistry when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I found myself wanting to understand the molecular details and mechanisms of life, and this led me to pursue a degree in Biochemistry at the University of Manitoba.

Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Were there other challenges during your academic journey? How did you overcome them?

The COVID-19 pandemic was definitely the largest obstacle I faced during my academic journey. It was an extremely stressful time for everyone, and at times I felt very unmotivated to study. For me, my friends and family helped me to overcome this through their support – I found that even studying with someone silently over Zoom really helped me focus and not feel quite as isolated.

Sara Crooks portrait.

Sara Crooks

With lots of resources at UM, which ones, such as laboratories, libraries or specialized equipment, have been particularly beneficial to your learning and growth?

During my years at UM that were not spent online, I think I spent nearly every single day in the Science and Technology Library. It was a great place to study, whether it be with friends on the bottom floor, or cramming for exams by myself on the highest floor. It was extremely beneficial to me to always have a place I knew I could go to focus, and its close proximity to a source of coffee was definitely a plus as well!

Can you highlight any professors who have had a significant impact on your academic journey and your university experience?

I feel like most of my professors had some impact on my journey since they taught the courses that made me passionate about science and biochemistry. Dr. Sean McKenna taught me Biochemistry 1, which is what originally got me interested in the field, and in my last year, we also had a few conversations where he gave me some great advice. And of course, I’m also extremely grateful for Dr. Mark Nachtigal, who introduced me to the world of cancer research this summer and has been a great mentor to me.

Have you had the opportunity to collaborate with students or researchers from other science disciplines? How did this interdisciplinary experience influence your understanding of Biochemistry?

Through my time as a Co-op student, I had the opportunity to work in an industry position at PTI Transformers for 8 months in the R & D Department. This was definitely the highlight of my degree. It taught me the fundamentals of how the research process works and made me excited to explore more research opportunities in the future. Although it wasn’t in the field of biochemistry, I was still able to learn a lot of skills and lessons that are applicable to my field, and I feel like the unique perspective I gained from working in a different discipline will only benefit me in the future.

As you start the next phase of your journey, what advice would you give to incoming students at the Faculty of Science?

The advice I would give to new students would be that you don’t have to have it all figured out within your first year. If you don’t know what you’re majoring in right away, that’s OK! Take a few classes that sound interesting, and don’t put pressure on yourself to rush through your degree as fast as you can. I would also really recommend doing things outside of the classroom, like summer research, or applying for the Co-op program. These experiences were not only extremely fun and interesting, but they also helped motivate me to study for my classes, since they put what I was learning in the classroom into perspective.

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