Vanessa Zak

Role: HQP Scholar

Degree: M.Sc.

Primary Faculty Advisor: Jonathan LaMarre

Project: Improving Bovine Fertility by miRNA Biomarker Supplementation.

Department: Department of Biomedical Sciences, OVC

What inspired you to pursue your current degree? 

I did a research assistantship one summer during my undergrad and fell in love with it. Seeing other researchers make a difference inspired me to want to do the same!

What about your research area excites you? 

I have always been passionate about both fertility and the agriculture industry. I grew up working on various farms, so when I realized I could combine my two passions, I knew that was what I wanted to do. Fertility is such a complex, multi-faceted field with so many unknowns. Being able to solve some of the questions we have about fertility while improving the beef and cattle industries, excites me very much!

What challenges do you find in your research, and how do you try to overcome them? 

I face typical lab challenges like optimizing experimental protocols and troubleshooting when a protocol doesn’t go quite right. That being said, I have a great lab community and there is always someone who can help if needed! Being patient is also a great skill in research!

How would you describe your research and the implications of your project? 

My research specifically looks at methylated cell-free DNA in seminal plasma, and its potential for use as a fertility biomarker. Learning more about the genetic factors that impact fertility will hopefully allow the agriculture industry to streamline the way it determines whether a bull is fertile or not. This is important as one bull will service many females, so sub-fertility can have widespread consequences.

What do you see as your next steps after completing your degree? 

So far, I am just loving where I am in grad school and am trying to enjoy every moment of it!

What role has the HQP scholarship played in your academic journey so far?

The HQP scholarship course was great because it introduced me to so many incredible researchers and opened my eyes to the many areas of agriculture innovation. I learned so much from my instructors, peers, and community partners. It was truly an eye-opening experience!

What are three of your favourite activities outside the lab? 

1. Being outside
2. Baking treats
3. Spending time with friends and family (once the pandemic is over…hopefully soon!)

What is one important thing you have learned during the pandemic? 

One important thing that I learned during the pandemic is that timelines can change due to a variety of factors! It is always important to be flexible, adaptable, and very patient!