Convocation spotlight: PhD ‘23 grad Brianna Greenwood

Biochemistry PhD sees a bright future as a physician scientist, bringing her research into lipid biosynthesis to bear on patient well-being.

17 November 2023

After spending nearly 10 years immersed in research, newly minted biochemistry PhD graduate Brianna Greenwood has wasted no time going right back to school. She is now working toward her MD, which she expects to complete in 2027. This lifelong learner talks about what inspired her research focus, the highlights of her PhD journey and how she kept going during challenging times. 

What drew you to biochemistry?

I was awarded a research grant while pursuing a bachelor of science in molecular cellular biology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. It gave me the opportunity to research neurodegeneration using fruit flies as a model. This was in the summer of 2015. I really fell in love with research that summer, and the following year I fell in love with metabolic biochemistry. Once I arrived at the University of Alberta, I got to work in David Stuart’s lab, which gave me a chance to research lipid biosynthesis and combine my two loves.

What moment are you most proud of from your time in the program?

I presented my work to an international audience at the Yeast Lipid Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden in May of 2021.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Optimizing protocols for new techniques felt a lot more stressful when I was under the time crunch of returning paper edits for publication.

How did you stay motivated when things got tough?

I learned that taking time for myself and away from the lab really helped me be more resilient when experiments failed in the lab. Running in the river valley with my dog or playing board games with my fiance helped keep me going.

What advice would you give to a student thinking of entering your program?

Try a summer or semester research project in a lab just to get yourself acquainted with research. You learn more from failed experiments than you do from successful ones — don't let it get you down!

What have you learned about yourself?

For me, if I'm stuck on a problem, going for an hour-long run or swim is going to clear my head and get me to the answer much quicker than ruminating on it for another hour. This will be useful in all aspects of my life post-PhD as I try to remember to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

What comes next in your career?

Just started my first year of medicine here at the U of A! Once I have my PhD and MD, I hope to work as a physician-scientist and help to bridge the gap between the bench and the bedside.