Mar 2, 2023

International Women's Day: IMS Student Spotlights

Current Students
International Women's Day
By Sarah Topa

In celebration of International Women's Day on March 8, 2023, we're spotlighting some of our incredible graduate students. In these profiles IMS students talk about their research, their favourite part of graduate school, and their advice for those interested in pursuing science. 

Stephanie Benjamin

Stephanie Benjamin, MSc Student

Research site: Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning
PI: Dr. Robert Hamilton
Research area: Pediatric cardiology

Our lab's focus is studying rare fetal cardiac disorders such as Congenital Heart Block (CHB), Brugada Syndrome and Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy. Over the last year I have become really passionate about pediatric cardiology and my research on CHB. I've also had the opportunity to present at poster presentations, conferences and be apart of student initiatives such as the IMS Students' Association. I think it's important to seek out new opportunities and take a chance on things that pique your interest. 

My advice for others interested in graduate school is to pursue a research field that you're genuinely interested in - you'll enjoy your work more and the end results will be even more fulfilling. Don't be afraid to reach out to potential supervisors. Many PIs have fascinating project ideas and are waiting for students who are equally excited to lead it. 


Michelle Dubinsky, PhD Candidate

Research site: Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute
PI: Dr. Philip Marsden
Research area: Cardiovascular epigenetics and how blood flow patterns affect genes

I did my Masters in protein biochemistry, and wanted to take a step back in the central dogma of DNA -> RNA -> Protein. Epigenetics is a very exciting field, whereby the DNA sequence is not directly changed.  Additionally, cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death worldwide, and especially in North America where we eat a diet high in processed foods. I wanted to explore these areas to make a meaningful impact in the field of health and disease.

I have really enjoyed the IMS and all the exciting research being conducted! The people are fantastic and there were countless opportunities to become involved in and outside of my research. Getting involved and having a real impact, in my case through the IMS Peer-to-Peer Mentorship Program, Ori Rotstein Lectureship, student recruitment, SciHigh (Tanenbaum-Lunenfeld), the St. Michael's Hospital Student Research Association (SRSA) and the Life Sciences Career Development Syndicate (LSCDS), were key highlights of my graduate training. 

Gina De Souza

Gina D'Souza, MSc Student

Research site: Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute 
PI: Dr. Tom Schweizer
Research area: Investigating the interaction of Alzheimer's disease and history of traumatic brain injury using neuroimaging

I enjoy sharing my research and connecting with clinicians and researchers in similar fields at international conferences. Traveling to new cities and learning about the important research being done around the world are highlights of my graduate school experience. 

I encourage those passionate about science to trust their instincts and advocate for their strengths. By networking and trying new things, you can thrive in this field.

Julia Tomasi

Julia Tomasi, PhD Candidate

Research site: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
PI: Dr. James Kennedy
Research area: Investigating biomarkers of anxiety disorder using genetics, wearable devices, and virtual reality

The most exciting part of my research is being able to contribute to achieving a greater understanding of the underlying genetic mechanisms leading to anxiety and integrating cutting-edge technology like wearables and virtual reality. This research may help us find improved treatment targets and personalized treatment options for patients with anxiety disorder. 

My advice to girls interested in being a scientist is to stay curious, never be afraid to ask questions, and to find mentors who support your passions and lift you up. 

Iciar Iturmendi-Sabater

Iciar Iturmendi-Sabater, PhD Student

Research site: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
PI: Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai
Research area: Social skills in neurodevelopmental conditions

I became interested in studying how social behavior varies across the neurodiversity spectrum during my undergraduate studies when I volunteered with elderly people with developmental conditions and various degrees of disability. Building relationships with them made me question why neurodevelopmental conditions are characterised by social behaviour difficulties. 

I want to become a therapist back in my home country, Spain, and listen and provide meaningful support to neurodivergent children and youth, and their families. As a PhD student, I am able to acquire specialised knowledge in the field by learning from stakeholders, researchers and clinicians at IMS and CAMH. My graduate degree is teaching me how to ask the right questions to arrive at the most meaningful answers for creating real positive change for this unique population.