School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Sarah E. Brisbin

MSc. Biology '09

Worming Her Way into Medical School

By Deborah Melman-Clement

When Sarah Brisbin was growing up, she swore to herself that she would never go to Queen's.

"Both of my parents were alumni," she explains. "They met on Convocation Day. I heard that story all through my childhood and I didn't want to follow in their footsteps."

That all changed when the Chatham, Ontario native visited the school on a campus tour.

"I fell in love with it immediately," she says. " It was a perfect fit. I guess I finally understood what my parents saw in it."

Brisbin started at Queen's as an undergrad, studying Life Sciences as a foundation for medical school. "I've always been a science nerd," she says. While she enjoyed what she was learning, eventually she decided to switch her major to Biology. "There was just more opportunity with Biology," she explains. "It gave me the ability to explore the full range of biosciences and not just the human aspects."

Early in Brisbin's undergrad career, Dr. Ian Chin-Sang guest-lectured in one of her classes. "I thought he gave a great lecture," she recalls. " I was really interested in the things he was talking about so I took a full course with him in my third year." She was so captivated by the material, that she volunteered to work in Chin-Sang's lab.

The Chin-Sang lab was working with C. elegans, a microscopic worm that shares genetic properties with human beings. "Basically, we're using the worm to understand cell signalling in humans," she explains. Brisbin continued working with Chin-Sang -- and his worms - in her fourth year, and then for three additional years at the Master's level.

The work, she says, has been rewarding. Her research with the worm is shedding new light on gene communication as it relates to some cancers. "I feel like our work has the potential to change the way certain cancers are treated," she says.

And she's not the only one. The multi-national biotech giant Genentech has taken an interest in the lab's work, and in the summer of 2009, they won first prize at the Genetic Society of America's bi-annual C. elegans International Meeting. The prize, Brisbin explains, consisted of "some recognition and a tiny bit of money - enough to cover a night at the Grad Club when we got back."

With the recognition - and her MSc. -- now in her pocket, Brisbin is looking to the future. She's continuing her research while working as an assistant in Dr. Chin-Sang's lab, and applying to medical schools across the country.

Looking back on her experience to date, Brisbin is confident that she's made the right choices. "I could have gone the usual pre-med route, "she says, "but I think an MSc is actually better preparation for med school. It gives you the ability to read a wide range of literature and form questions quickly. It's really helped me develop me critical thinking skills."

She's also glad that she ignored her initial instincts and followed in her parents' footsteps. "The atmosphere here is phenomenal," she says. "The grad school community is so diverse. I've been meeting interesting people every day. It's a great place to go to school."


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