Julia (Da Hye) Kim, Innovative Heart Researcher and Scientific Outreach Advocate

In our latest Spotlight, we’re proud to feature our National Young Leader mentor, Julia Kim. As a University of Toronto MSc candidate, Julia is studying proteins involved in heart disease to identify new treatments. Julia is an avid supporter of scientific outreach- she serves as an editorial board member with the STEM Fellowship Journal, and recently led a booth for the UofT Department of Physiology at Science Rendezvous. Outside of the lab, Julia enjoys cooking, and volunteers as a kitchen volunteer at the June Callwood Centre for Young Women. In our interview, Julia describes her decision process for joining a lab for grad school, discusses the importance of scientific outreach, and shares her favorite, fast- instantly-nutritious recipe.

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1. Once you settled on pursuing grad school, how did you find a supervisor and lab to join?

My first step was to look into which field of research I was interested in, which helped me narrow down the list of potential labs. I read up on each supervisor’s work and publications and contacted those whose research interests aligned with my own. During the interviews with different supervisors and meetings with lab members including current graduate students, I asked about potential projects, lab environment, availability of supervisors, and personal opinions from graduate students. Considering all these factors made me feel confident about my decision and excited to start my graduate studies in my current lab.

2. Tell us about your research.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death not only in Canada but worldwide. Despite the wealth of information available and the large efforts driving cardiovascular research, we are still far from “curing” heart disease and the 5-year survival rate for heart failure patients remains strikingly low at 52%. Rather than looking at what we already know about heart disease, my research focuses on studying the hearts of ischemic cardiomyopathy patients to identify novel therapeutic candidates for heart disease. To do this, we use a sophisticated approach called mass-spectrometry based proteomics to characterize all the proteins in the different regions of the heart and identify the key players responsible for the organ’s function and phenotype. Subsequent analysis of this in-depth data will allow us to discover proteins and signalling pathways that have not been previously associated with heart disease but that are significantly perturbed in our cardiomyopathy patients. By understanding pathological signalling in the context of the tissue proteome, we hope to be a step closer to finding novel effective treatments for heart disease patients!

3. One of your interests is scientific outreach. Why is scientific outreach important, and what approaches are you taking to promote science?

There is often a disconnect between the public and science mainly due to misleading information seeping into news and social media outlets in addition to the complex scientific lingo. However, what’s often overlooked is the interdependent relationship existing between the public and science. Applications of scientific knowledge affect citizens through various aspects including their health; furthermore, scientific research relies on public support and funding. As scientists, we have a duty to bring awareness to the peer-reviewed scientific process and better communicate its potential to the public. We need complete transparency and clarity to build trust and ensure the public understands the importance of advancing scientific research.

One approach I have taken to tackle this issue is to engage the younger generation of students. SciHigh is a great volunteer-based organization based in Toronto that coordinates class visits to schools and science clubs; scientists run demos on lab techniques and lead science activities. I have also led a great team from the UofT graduate department of physiology to participate in a local science outreach program, Science Rendezvous 2018. At this street festival, we had the opportunity to engage elementary and middle school students with how the different human body systems work and show how we are constantly interacting with science. I was also pleasantly surprised that parents were engaged and asked many questions about physiology and diseases. Science outreach takes shape in many forms and it can start with a short conversation with anyone; one conversation can encourage further questions and spark curiosity.

4. Grad school can be stressful, but you are de-stressing through cooking. What’s your favourite nutritious, can make-in-30-minutes recipe?

My recent favourite go-to-recipe has been avocado toast with a poached egg. The traditional way to poach an egg with a boiling pot of water is time-consuming but I recently learned a tip to quickly poach an egg using a microwave. You need to carefully crack an egg into a bowl of water with a splash of vinegar and heat it in the microwave for about a minute. Place it over a slice of toast with sliced avocadoes seasoned with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Then, enjoy it like a restaurant-style benny! It’s simple, nutritious, and can be enjoyed as a snack, breakfast or lunch!

5. What’s been your most memorable moment of grad school thus far?

My most memorable moment so far has been attending HUPO, an international proteomics conference in Orlando, FL this year. While local conferences in Toronto are great for showcasing your work to fellow graduate students and professors and to gain different perspectives on your research, presenting at a consortium solely dedicated to my field of research was a whole new experience: I felt that I was part of a greater scientific community and that my work was appreciated. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to meet other scientists and to learn about current work in my field of cardiovascular proteomics. I was thrilled to be able to discuss minute, technical details of protocols and results with scientists with diverse proteomics expertise. This experience further consolidated my passion in heart research; I’m grateful to conduct research in such an inspiring and collaborative environment.

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Julia is happy to answer your questions about pursuing graduate studies,  research, and more through our free National Young Leader mentorship program. Connect with her here.

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