Convocation ‘22: Jaclyn McCutcheon, PhD, Biological Sciences (Molecular Biology and Genetics)

“Don't stop chasing your curiosity.”

Donna McKinnon - 22 November 2022


After her undergrad, Jaclyn McCutcheon knew her academic journey was only beginning. Fascinated with bacterial genetics and its real world applications, she followed her curiosity to the U of A to deepen her knowledge and realize her dream of being a scientist. 

Acknowledging that motivation can be fickle, particularly in a long academic program, Jaclyn kept true to her research agenda and found the right mentors to help her on her journey. She ultimately won the Andrew Stewart Memorial Graduate Prize, which recognizes excellence in research at the doctoral level, and the Faculty of Science Dissertation Award for her thesis.

Congratulations Jaclyn!

What led you to choose your current area of study, and why the U of A for your studies?

In the final year of my undergraduate BSc degree at MacEwan University I realized that I wasn't done learning, so I began looking into graduate research at the U of A. I had no research experience but was fascinated by bacterial genetics and the concept of phage therapy.

Dr. Jonathan Dennis' lab was one of the few phage research labs in Western Canada at the time and having grown up in the Edmonton area it was a perfect fit to keep me close to family and give me the opportunity to study a topic with real world applications. 

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?

I was lucky to work alongside many phenomenal female scientists during my degree. My favourite memories are of busy days in the lab spent chatting with them about science and our personal lives. One specific experience that also stands out was traveling one summer to Halifax and then directly to Winnipeg for back-to-back conferences with two of my colleagues.

Did you take on any leadership roles while you were a student? 

Yes, I took on the role of senior grad student/lab manager in our lab the last few years of my degree. I trained and mentored over a dozen undergraduate students conducting research projects in our lab as well as new grad students as they joined the lab. Teaching in this atmosphere requires a different skillset and I found it very rewarding to watch students be successful in new techniques and learn new skills that had become second nature to me by that point. 

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program, and if so, how did you respond?

The pandemic affected everyone. For me, I lost over six months at the bench doing wet lab research and it changed the trajectory of my projects. Although it delayed my research progress, looking back I realize it also gave me time to compile data from projects that I had been putting off working on and that led to two publications. At the time it was horrible not knowing where my research was going, but it gave me a breather in the middle of my degree when I think I really needed the break. 

What advice do you have for current and future students?

Don't stop chasing your curiosity. There will be times when you lose all motivation in your research and that's okay. But remember the little things that sparked your interest in the first place and it makes everything a little easier.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?

With family and friends from my research lab who are also convocating this fall.

What's next after graduation?

I am still on campus and currently working in Biological Sciences as the Lab Coordinator for our undergraduate introductory microbiology course, MICRB 265, as well as an Assistant Lecturer in the fields of Microbiology and Genetics.