A rising star of sience
by Marcello Bernardo
Sarah Niccoli has spent the last few weeks celebrating one milestone after another. The former student and research assistant with the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute (TBRRI) recently completed her Master of Science in Biology Degree at Lakehead University and became a published author for the first time.
“Any aspiring scientist will tell you that having a research paper published is a huge accomplishment, especially your first one. It shows that you’ve made a contribution to science and it helps to cement your reputation”, says Niccoli.
Like many researchers, Sarah’s interest in science began at an early age. While it was television programs like The Magic School Bus (with the adventurous Miss Frizzle) and Bill Nye the Science Guy that sparked her interest, it wasn’t until high school that she knew science was going to be a big part of her future.
“My interest in science really started to gain traction when I was in grade 11 at Hillcrest High School. We were able to start focusing on specific disciplines like biology and chemistry, as opposed to just general science courses. I liked biology better because of the human aspect”, says Niccoli.
Sarah continued to study biology in university, where she developed a keen interest in learning about disease, specifically cancer. That led her to explore opportunities with the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and TBRRI. For the next 5 years she had the chance to work with several researchers while gaining valuable experience working in a real laboratory setting. She would eventually cross paths with one of her biggest influences and mentors, Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe, a TBRRI scientist and adjunct professor.
Now, after completing her Master of Science in Biology Degree, and becoming a published author, Sarah will continue her career with a one year internship at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) starting in October. Her new role is funded by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC). She will be working with Dr. Simon Lees and assisting with his research on skeletal muscle precursor cells.
The next step will be challenging, but Niccoli feels that her experience working at TBRRI has prepared her exceptionally well.
“TBRRI created an interdisciplinary learning environment, and it allowed me to be exposed to many disciplines and types of research. I got to interact with researchers in other areas like chemistry and engineering, which really helped me to develop a wider understanding of science” says Niccoli.
Sarah also credited the great camaraderie and cooperative atmosphere at TBRRI for her success.
“The scientists really enjoy being mentors and are always available to answer questions. They treat us as colleagues, not just as students.”