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Award Winner Interview: Emily Morris

Below is an exclusive interview with Mitacs Accelerate intern Emily Morris who won the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – Master’s at the 3rd annual Mitacs Awards Reception on November 19th in Ottawa. Under the supervision of Dr. Jehannie Austin in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, Emily undertook a Mitacs Accelerate internship in partnership with the BC Mental Health and Addictions Research Institute.

Can you tell us a bit about the research you did through Mitacs Accelerate that led to you winning the 2013 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – Master’s?

The purpose of my research was to find out more about how medical geneticists discuss the different features of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11DS). 22q11DS is a rare genetic condition in which individuals can have a variety of different problems - e.g. heart and palate defects, immune problems, and learning disabilities. In addition, people with 22q11DS have an increased chance in developing psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. I was interested in finding out if medical geneticists discuss these disorders with families when making a diagnosis of 22q11DS. My research is particularly important because it identified that stigma may be preventing open discussions about the risk for psychiatric disorders. An open discussion is the first step in making sure patients receive proper and timely mental health care, which can greatly improve prognosis.

What is the greatest advantage you feel you gained through your internship? What does it bring to your research or professional career?

The greatest advantage I feel I gained through my internship was the ability to independently conduct a research project. I feel I gained the skills necessary to take an interesting question and turn it into a feasible and successful research project. In my career as a genetic counsellor, having clinical research experience is a very valuable asset. I feel that as my career progresses, the research skills I obtained through my internship will allow for further career development and advancement. Many genetic counsellors work solely in clinical practice, so also having a research background makes me a bit more unique and well-rounded.

What advice would you give other Master’s students currently considering a Mitacs Accelerate internship?

I would encourage them to apply! It is such a valuable experience – from the skills you learn writing the application to the skills you learn during the internship.  You have nothing to lose and only great things to gain.

What was the highlight of your Mitacs Accelerate internship?

The highlight of my internship was that upon completion of my research project, the manuscript I had written as a result of the project was accepted for publication in a reputable peer-reviewed journal, Genetics in Medicine.

What are your future plans?  Where do you see yourself in five years?

I plan to continue my career as a genetic counsellor specializing in the field of clinical psychiatric genetics research. In five years, I hope to have published more research papers and to have taken on more of a leadership role within the genetic counselling community.