Jan. 30, 2019

HPI Visiting Speakers: Dr. Sarah Knutie (University of Connecticut)

Article by Diana Jeong, (MSc student, Poissant lab, University of Calgary)

January 30th, 2019: Sipping coffee and chatting with my fellow HPI trainees, that Wednesday morning I was greeted by a collage of pancakes that uncannily resemble parasites; part of a quirky introduction from Dr. Sarah Knutie on her talk “Environmental change shapes host defenses against parasites”.

During the seminar, Dr. Knutie took us to the Galapagos Islands, where she studies the consequences on Darwin’s finches of an introduced parasite population of nest flies, as well as the multi-life stage interactions of the host microbiome in Cuban tree frogs. As an animated speaker, Dr. Knutie added her personal touch of humor in the presentation, providing an engaging, informative session for the audience. Even the most serious PIs and students in the room were helplessly cracking smiles throughout her talk!

Dr. Knutie was also kind to participate in the HPI publishing workshop that same day. Her insight as an accomplished author provided us with helpful advice on how to get started as a new writer; she was even prepared to give each participant with her own handouts for writing tips! I think what struck me the most was her advice on facing rejection - she told us about her own personal experience in receiving criticism on a paper, and turning it around for a better publication in a journal with higher impact.

As a graduate student representative for the Wildlife Health and Ecology Research Group (WHERG), I was particularly excited for this seminar as we were co-hosting Dr. Knutie with HPI. I found her approachable personality and enthusiasm for her research to be inspiring and infectious (no pun intended). When I asked her what her favorite part of visiting other institutions was, she replied with no hesitation, “The people!”. She truly demonstrates her persistence to be an ever-growing researcher and a mentor by her genuine approach to stimulate discussions and to get to know every individual she meets. By interacting with researchers of all levels and disciplines, she said that she herself gets to learn how to become a better collaborator and PI for her lab. I think that we were very lucky to have the opportunity to host Dr. Knutie and to learn from her experiences not just as a researcher, but also on a personal level. All-in-all, I’d like to thank her for her time spent at the University of Calgary, and for the great chats about wildlife, parasites, and surviving academia!