Feb. 24, 2020

Mentorship matters

Q&A with the Libin’s new education director
Dr. Jennifer Thompson, PhD, works with a student in her lab
Dr. Jennifer Thompson, PhD, works with summer student Victoria Palmgren in her lab. Dawn Smith

W e sat down with Dr. Jennifer Thompson, PhD,  the Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s new education director, to discuss her views on education and mentors and to hear her plans for the education portfolio at the Institute.  

How long have you been an educator?
I began my teaching career while doing postdoctoral studies in the Vascular Biology Center at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. As an adjunct professor, I taught several undergraduate and graduate courses in the Kinesiology Department as well as in the Biological Sciences Department. My teaching experience was a nice complement to my research activities because it put me in a position to have a direct impact on students and help them achieve their potential.

Why is education important to you?

Trainees aren’t just driving the research of today, they will be the principal investigators and leaders of tomorrow. To advance biomedical research in Canada, it is critically important to retain the strongest students and adequately train them to develop internationally competitive research programs.

Why did you agree to take on this role?
I am really excited about taking on the role of education director. I have always been passionate about education and am excited to contribute to the mission of the Libin Institute.  

What is your education philosophy?
The biomedical research enterprise has evolved – there are higher expectations for collaborative, interdisciplinary and translational research as well as connecting to the broader community. We need to equip our trainees with the full complement of skills required to be successful in this new landscape. I believe this involves providing multi-layered training that extends beyond the laboratory and positions trainees to apply their knowledge and skills to a variety of career trajectories.  

What does the Institute offer its trainees? 
The Libin Institute offers trainees a number of opportunities that foster skills in science communication, critical thinking and networking. Trainees also have the opportunity to be mentored by exceptional scientists within the Institute. For a comprehensive list of what is available, visit libin.ucalgary.ca/research. 

What are your goals for education?
Moving forward, I would like to see the Libin Institute diversify its training platform to include broader skills training and career planning. I think students and postdoctoral trainees would benefit from gaining awareness of the full breadth of biomedical careers available to them as research trainees.

What is the ideal education environment?
In the ideal educational environment, students would feel inspired and excited about their contributions to the important research being conducted at the Institute. They would feel connected to the Libin community and confident in their career trajectories. 

Why are mentors important?
Mentors – both formal and informal – have had a huge impact on my career and life. One of the most impactful influences in my career is a senior principal investigator from Oregon Health and Sciences University, who is one of the most highly respected researchers in my field. He is admired not only for his influential research, but also for his strong mentorship and support of emerging trainees. Although he has no vested interest in my career, he has long been my advocate and has made a tangible impact on my career opportunities.