Thank You Letter To Dissertation Committee Members

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I would like to thank three important groups of people, without whom this dissertation would not have been possible: my committee, my wonderful lab-mates, and my family.

I would like to first thank the members of my dissertation committee - not only for their time and extreme patience, but for their intellectual contributions to my development as a scientist. I am indebted to Kathleen Hall, who first taught me that RNA genes were ``cool'' in my favorite section of the Nucleic Acids core graduate course. Without the appreciation and excitement in RNA research inspired by those lectures, I may not have ever pursued this challenging area of biology overlooked by many. To Tim Schedl, I thank for being a supportive, strong guiding force as Chair of my committee. I am particularly appreciative to Tim for agreeing to head a committee dominated by computational biologists; he offered a welcome, balancing perspective as a rigorous experimental geneticist. To Warren Gish, who helped train me as a budding computational biologist even before I arrived at graduate school. My experience working with Warren on dbEST at the National Center for Biotechnology Information was extremely positive and fun (Ultimate and Friday TGIFs sipping margaritas certainly included). To Michael Zuker, for kindly sharing his decades of wisdom in the RNA field. The tRNAscan-SE website was enhanced with his help creating graphic representations of tRNA secondary structures. To Steve Johnson, whom I am most appreciative for agreeing to serve on the committee on short notice, and knowing he would probably have less than two weeks to read my thesis. I earnestly hope to have the chance to contribute to vertebrate genomics in the future through active collaborations with Steve.

Most of all, I would like to thank my thesis advisor, Sean Eddy, a talented teacher and passionate scientist. For a young researcher who had never before taken on a graduate student, Sean seemed to be wise beyond his experience. Sean took me into his lab after I had left my first thesis lab under less-than-favorable conditions, without questions or prejudgement - for that, I am indebted and thankful for the fresh new opportunities he offered. At several points during my thesis work, Sean put my interests as a student ahead of his own - as a young, unestablished faculty member, his ultimate concern for the welfare of his students is noteworthy. I also thank Sean for appreciating my research strengths and patiently encouraging me to improve in my weaker areas. His strong support of my own ideas and research directions, and confidence in my abilities were benefits not all thesis students enjoy (but should). Graduate school can be a difficult, draining experience. I am proud to say my experience in the Eddy lab was intellectually exciting and fun, and has energized me to continue in academic research. I sincerely hope I continue to have opportunities to interact with Sean for the rest of my research career.

To my lab-mates, thanks for the fun and support. My experience in the lab was greatly enhanced as it filled out from just Sean, Mindi, and me. I greatly look forward to having all of you as colleagues in the years ahead. To Mindi and Cheryl, many thanks for help at the bench and great company. Of all the people I have worked with in the ``wet-lab'' environment, I will easily miss hanging out with you two the most. I only hope my future wet-lab mates have a similarly adventurous taste in music. Lastly, I wish to sincerely thank Linda Lutfiyya. Linda was a best friend, a source of great emotional support, and the best ``fun stuff'' organizer I knew in grad school. Linda was also critical in the success of my main thesis project. She helped train me in yeast bench technique, sharing her excellent advice, reagents, and protocols eagerly through dozens of gene disruptions and tetrad dissections. Without her expertise and other valuable resources from the Johnston lab, my project might not have ever come to fruition. I cannot adequately express how thankful I am.

Finally, but not least, I want to thank my parents and my identical twin brother Robert (with whom I shared so much growing up, hence the ``us'' in this section). My parents always encouraged us to ask questions, to be curious about how things work. Thanks for watching endless Nova, Nature, and The Body Human programs on PBS with us when we were little. Thanks for encouraging us to be independent thinkers, and having confidence in our abilities to go after new things that inspired us. Thanks Dad for taking us into lab with you to see those cool pictures you called ``electron micrographs'' when we were just five or six - and showing us how marvelously exciting biological research can be by your excitement. Thanks for teaching us that it is important to try to leave the world just a little better than when you came into it, and how a career in research can be a worthy part of that pursuit. And, of course, thank you both for your constant support through the ups and downs of my academic career. It has been bumpy at times, but your confidence in me has enhanced my ability to get through it all and succeed in the end.

And my most heartfelt thanks to my brother Robert. Without a doubt, my interest in genetics started when I realized we had the same DNA, down to the base pair, and yet we were still so different in some ways. I sometimes consider our lives a life-long experiment, in which chance and the interesting people we interact with split us on different paths. Our intense, yet positive academic and athletic competition up through high school pushed me to always strive for more. I cannot imagine being the person I am today without such a great brother through the years. Thanks for everything that helped me get to this day.

Next:Introduction Up:Thesis Title Page Previous:List of FiguresTodd M. Lowe

For anyone tired of hearing about my thesis – let me start by saying that this will be the last post on the topic for the foreseeable future.  My thesis was officially accepted on Monday, which means that one big chapter of my life is coming to a close.

The defense itself went remarkably smoothly – I was lucky to have a great committee and fortunate that most of my projects have already been accepted for publication, both of which helped a lot.  My committee members were so nice that one of them (Pascal Imbeault) actually introduced himself to my parents beforehand, and reassured them that it would be a relaxing “science fiesta”, and that they had nothing to worry about.  That’s a really nice thing to do for someone’s parents just before a defense, and it made the process much more enjoyable and relaxed for my family (who were understandably anxious). There were a few tough questions (What are the main sites of glucose utilization at rest? Answer: Fat tissue and the central nervous system. My incorrect answer: Muscle and fat tissue), but it generally was a science fiesta as Pascal predicted.

The above video is my PhD thesis defense in its entirety (the full text is available online here). The video turned out much better (thanks Allana) than our attempt at live streaming (for all those who tried to watch live, I apologize for the audio).  The audio on this new video is pretty good considering our setup, although you may want use headphones to catch the details. Thanks to Mike Borghese for all his help with the recording.

I have a LOT of people to thank for their help the past four years; if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a small city to get through a phd.  Below is the acknowledgements section from my thesis (available in full here), and publishing them here on the blog is an idea I am happily stealing from Peter (you can find the recap of his PhD defense here).  Before I get to the official acknowledgements, I would like to thank Peter for his friendship and support the past seven years, and for his kind words on Friday. I would also like to thank Zach Ferraro for his post on the weekend – it is because of lab mates like Zach and Peter that I have been able to get through grad school in the first place.  Thanks also to all the people who have been following Obesity Panacea since it began five years ago, and especially those who have sent a congratulatory message through the blog or on Twitter.

For anyone wondering where I am off to next, I will be starting a post doctoral fellowship at Dalhousie University later this year, funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.  My work at Dal will be examining sedentary behaviour among people with chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer), and has the potential for some very interesting results.  It will also mean that my wife and I will be back on the East Coast, which is exciting in and of itself (I grew up in New Brunswick, but have lived “away” since starting my BSc in Calgary).  I’ll be sure to chronicle my new research as soon as things get up and running in Halifax.

Now on to my acknowledgements!

While I take full responsibility for the works that make up this thesis, none of the studies that follow would have been possible without the help of many friends and colleagues.  I ask that the reader bear with me, as this section is one of the few opportunities that I will have to formally acknowledge and thank those individuals.

I would like to begin by thanking the many participants (and their families) who took part in the studies that make up this thesis.  They volunteered a great deal of time, energy, and even blood, and without them none of these studies would have been possible.  Not only that, but they helped make the long hours of data collection enjoyable, for which I am extremely grateful.

I would also like to sincerely thank my PhD supervisor Mark Tremblay.  It is hard to find words to describe how much I appreciate all he has done for me as a supervisor and mentor.  I came to work with Mark at a time when I was uncertain whether I wanted to continue with grad school.  However, after just a few months working in the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group that he oversees, my decision to pursue a PhD was both easy and obvious.  Mark has been fiercely supportive of myself and my labmates, and has consistently provided me with rapid, detailed and (when necessary) blunt feedback throughout my PhD.  I don’t know that many graduate students are excited to go to work in the morning, but thanks to Mark (and the fantastic group he has assembled), I’ve always been able to look forward to work in “The Hub”.  Given the experience I have had working with Mark and the rest of the HALO team, I would also like to thank Michelle Lafrance, Doug Willms, and my uncle Patrick Flanagan for directly and/or indirectly sending me in this direction.

I would also like to sincerely thank Drs Gary “Gold Standard” Goldfield and Glen Kenny for sitting on my thesis committee, and for going far above and beyond the requirements in order to help me in my training and research.  Gary has written me more reference letters than should be asked of anyone, been extremely supportive of my thesis projects, and has gone out of his way to include me in several productive side projects.  Just as importantly, not since Chris Chelios has the (road) hockey world been blessed with such an ageless defenseman.   For his part, Glen took time to mentor my teaching practicum, and has provided excellent advice in preparation for my comprehensive exam and thesis proposal, as well as the manuscripts included in this thesis.  I have been very lucky to have the two of them on my thesis committee.

Although not officially part of my thesis committee, aside from Mark no one has had more impact on my PhD research than Dr Jean-Philippe Chaput.  It was JP’s Young Investigator Award that funded Studies 3 and 4 of this thesis, and it was his colleagues in Quebec that gave us access to the data used in Study 1.  He has been an excellent colleague throughout, providing rapid and helpful feedback and support, and including me on a wide range of side projects.  His productivity and work/life balance have also served as a model for myself and the other graduate students in the HALO lab.

I must also thank (fellow New Brunswicker!) Dr Éric Doucet for sitting on my comprehensive exam committee, and for welcoming me into his lab for my data collection.  Studies 3 and 4 of this thesis would not have been possible without his help and support, and it has been a pleasure working with him throughout the thesis.  I also appreciate the time and effort he has put into the graduate program in the School of Human Kinetics, first as a member of the Grad Committee and now as Director of Graduate Studies.  Thanks also to the many wonderful people in his lab, including Ann Beninato, Isabelle Laforest, and Marie-Ève Riou, without whom data collection would have been impossible (and much less pleasant).

In addition to the aforementioned colleagues, I would also like to thank all of the collaborators who contributed to the manuscripts included in this thesis, as well as the side projects that I have been involved with over the years.  They have all been extremely giving with their time, helpful in their feedback, and patient in responding to my questions (Drs Rachel Colley and Val Carson were especially helpful in this regard).

I would also like to thank all the members of the HALO Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.  I cannot imagine a better group of people to spend your days with.  I will have especially fond memories of our regular games of HALO Hockey, and am pessimistic about ever finding another job that will allow me to play road hockey during my lunch hour multiple times every week.  Particular thanks go to Helene Sinclair, Michelle Takacs, and Tina Hutchinson, the three excellent administrators who have helped keep HALO on track during my time with the group.  I don’t think anyone could put more into their job than Helene Sinclair, and it’s been a pleasure to work with her these last few years.  Additional thanks also go to Niko Tzakis, Mike Borghese, Dr Zach Ferraro, Richard Larouche, Joel Barnes, Charles Boyer, and Allana Leblanc for their help with data collection and to Dr Kristi Adamo for always taking time from her busy schedule to help me navigate the research process.  Thanks also to former HALOite Dr Meghann Lloyd for getting me involved in the CAPL study early in my time at HALO, and for Dr Pat Longmuir for keeping me involved since joining the group.

In addition to the folks at HALO, I have also been helped by a number of excellent staff members at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.  Thanks to Kim Allen and Sharon Haig for their unending patience and help with multiple finance and ethics applications, Dr Nick Barrowman and Kathryn Williams for their help with statistical questions, Dr Margaret Sampson for her expertise with systematic reviews, and Dr Catherine Pound for serving as the physician for studies 3 and 4 in this thesis.

I would be remiss if I did not also thank and acknowledge the funding agencies that have made my thesis possible.  My PhD has been funded by Doctoral Research Awards from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Diabetes Association, as well as an Excellence Scholarship from the University of Ottawa.  Studies 3 and 4 in this thesis were also funded by a Young Investigator Award from the CHEO Research Institute to Dr JP Chaput.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my family for all the love and support that they have provided throughout graduate school, and life in general.  Mom, Dad and my sister Katie have always been incredibly supportive, with everything from hockey to juggling to graduate studies, and I am very proud to be a member of their family.  No one has contributed more to this PhD than my wife Daun, who I met shortly after entering graduate school in late 2006.  Thanks to her (and her alone) I’ve been able to maintain a sustainable level of work/life balance throughout my PhD.  She has made my PhD (and more importantly, life) a wonderful experience, and I can’t thank her enough for her love and support during the past 4 years (and the 2 before that).  I would also like to thank Daun’s parents and the rest of the Lynch/Newland/Montgomery clan for welcoming me into their family, which has added so much to our time in Ottawa.  Special thanks to Daun’s stepfather, Dr Hugh Montgomery, for lending the famous wheelchair that was used to transport participants to and from the washroom in Studies 3 and 4.


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