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Meet Jasmin Chahal Ph.D from McGill University

1. Tell us about yourself!

My name is Jasmin Chahal and I received my Ph.D. from the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at McGill University in Montreal. My Ph.D. focused on investigating the direct interaction between the human liver-specific microRNA, known as miR-122, and the Hepatitis C viral genome.

2. Why did you choose to join a research lab and what has the research, benchwork, or specific techniques taught you about a career in science?

I joined a research lab because I wanted to apply what I was learning in class. I also was fascinated by the discovery aspect of science, specifically within microbiology. I was intrigued by the impact that microorganisms, such as viruses, can make on our world! During my Ph.D., my experiments mainly included cell culture work with live viruses, northern blots to look at RNA levels, RT-qPCR, and RNA footprinting. All of these techniques require precision and came with many failures and challenges. Research takes patience and acceptance of failed and/or unexpected results. I have learned a lot about various techniques and how to perform, design, and troubleshoot experiments as well as critically think about the different results obtained. During my graduate studies, I learned that a career in science requires patience, the ability to face challenges, and oral/written communication skills. Research allowed me to perfect many virological techniques and communication skills, which are key in any career.

3. What have you learned from working in a lab and how has your role contributed to the field of research?

Along with the skills I mentioned previously, I obtained greater self-confidence as a researcher. When I started working in the lab, I was very nervous and scared but as time went on, I felt more confident in sharing my opinions, asking questions, and proposing project ideas. My work on the interaction between miR-122 and HCV RNA is published in Nucleic Acids Research (2019). We identified 3 roles that miR-122 plays in the HCV RNA life cycle (RNA structural conformation change, RNA stability, and translation promotion. We went on to investigate how different mutations in the HCV RNA can bypass one or more roles of miR-122 and this paper is currently in submission! When investigating the interaction between miR-122 and HCV RNA, we focused on the secondary structure of the viral RNA. I feel as though my work not only contributes to the RNA biology and virology fields but also helps to explain other cellular RNA and viral genome interactions.

4. What are your career goals and how has your research experience helped with this?

My goal is to teach science at a higher education level. My research helped me better communicate my work, which improved my teaching skills and helped me gain a better understanding of different techniques to then teach them as an educator. I am currently a faculty lecturer at McGill University, and I am teaching Introduction to Microbiology and a SEA-PHAGES class, which entails annotating a novel phage genome using bioinformatics tools.

5. What is the most exciting aspect of the lab you are in? What is the future application of this? What is something that a non-scientist would find interesting/should know about?

The most exciting aspect of the lab I did my Ph.D. in is that my work can be used to understand other RNA-RNA interactions between hosts and viruses! MicroRNAs and RNA secondary structures are underrated and understudied in science and the fact that my Ph.D. focused on both of these two aspects brings forth the importance of continuously investigating them! Something that a nonscientist should know is that completing a project in research or answering a specific scientific question is not a straight route. There are challenges, failures, tangents, backtracking, and multiple repeats that have to be done to provide convincing data to make certain conclusions.

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