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Claire Poulin

Zebrafish Researcher/Pre-Med Student
University of Ottawa
Clair Poulin hiking near wetland area
Clair Poulin hiking near wetland area
Location Born
Location Now
Education Pathway
School Subject

I am researching how Zebrafish respond to lower oxygen levels in their environment.

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born and raised in Atikokan, Ontario. It is a small-town of 2500 people in the northwest. To put things in perspective, my elementary school class was the 20 other children in town.

I now live in: I am now pursuing my post-secondary education at the University of Ottawa. This is 1660 km from where I grew up.

I completed my training/education at: I am currently working towards my Honours Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science. The training and opportunities that made my lab and research work possible have come from my experiences at university, especially with the University of Ottawa chapter of Let’s Talk Science


What I do at work

I’m a student researcher in the Biology Department at the University of Ottawa. I am currently researching how certain fish species respond to lower oxygen pressures in the water around them. In my research lab we look at comparative physiology. This is how different species adapt to, or overcome changes in their environment. Zebrafish are a beautiful exotic species! I have the delight of working with them each day!

I start by collecting my sample fish from our aquatics facility. Then I record their behavior in hypoxic (less oxygen) or normoxic (normal oxygen levels) water. I monitor and score this with a software called BORIS. Then I plot this behaviour against corresponding individual, pair, or group data. 

Zebrafish have established social hierarchies. My goal is to see how their social interactions affect their need for oxygen. We are interested in two behaviours - aquatic surface respiration and chasing. These often show dominant/subordinate relationships among the fish. I am working to find trends across their behaviour as the level of oxygen in their water is reduced. I am also collecting cortisol samples to analyze their stress levels.

I am always using what I learned in cellular biology, physiology, and general biology courses at university. These topics really helped to build a core understanding of what I do in the lab today!

I work with eight other people in the lab. They are completing their undergraduate degrees, Master’s degrees, and PhD projects. One professor supervises us all. We each work on separate projects, but we all use similar lab techniques to visualize our cellular images, or to analyze results. This means we often work together. We work in both French and English. The University of Ottawa is a bilingual institution, and strives to be as inclusive as possible.

My career path is

In high school, I could never picture myself in a research lab. There were no female role models to look up to in science. There were no laboratory-based careers in my town. As a result, getting here took some effort.

In high school I wanted to be a medical doctor, and I still do. The training and education I’m currently following, make a great foundation for a career in medicine. Although I am now working in the lab, I haven’t lost my aspirations to pursue medicine. I take every opportunity to network, build my resume, or learn a new skill, to be a stronger applicant.

I decided to pursue my HBSc in Biomedical Sciences because this program has a unique blend of anatomy and physiology courses. We also study biology, chemistry, physics, and math. I love the ability to design my course schedule in my third and fourth years. I was able to include forensic psychology. I am passionate about this subject! After high school, I applied to different universities across Ontario, knowing that I wanted to pursue STEM. I loved the bilingual aspect that comes from being so close to the Québec border in Ottawa.

Ultimately, I decided on this career path because most doctors in my hometown are locums. Locums are doctors who come from other areas to fill in on a temporary basis. I wanted my town to have more access to healthcare. Access to regular healthcare is a challenge of living in the North. Fewer doctors want to practice where there are fewer services. It’s also a challenge when you don’t have access to technology to run tests or help their patients. I think we need doctors who are problem solvers. They can make use of what is available to make a patient better.

I am motivated by

I find my job fulfilling because I can apply what I learned in high school and university to my work. It makes me feel accomplished. It also gives me time to reflect on the work and determination I have put into my education.

Growing up in the north, I was always fishing and spending time outdoors with animals. My work with Zebrafish gives me new goals to which to strive. Working with animals is a privilege that I appreciate every day. My lab members are a wonderful source of knowledge and experience. We are always learning new techniques and implementing new technologies to keep our lab up-to-speed. For me, the research lab has changed from an unknown and daunting space, to a familiar and comfortable working environment. I think this is an empowering environment for anyone who chooses this career path.

How I affect people’s lives

I am looking at how Zebrafish (Danio rerio) respond to stress. This is transferable to the human population. We all feel stress. With further research, we can use this technology to lessen negative stress responses in humans. Imagine how your life would be different if you could moderate your own responses to the stressors around you.

Outside of work I

I enjoy time outside, especially my precious time away from a computer screen. You can find me out fishing, out on a walk, or hiking around the Ottawa area in the summer. During the winter, I enjoy cross country skiing, biathlon, and nights reading a book with a cup of tea in my hand.

My advice to others

Take all the opportunities that are available to you, no matter your background. Your unique experiences make you an outstanding applicant, whether that is for university, a research scholarship, or medical school. Also, make sure to explore and pursue a career where you can follow your interests and passions. This always allows me to feel like going to work is fun!

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Foods and Nutrition
  • Physical Education / Health
  • Indigenous Studies
  • Science
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Always wanted to be outside
  • Liked helping people
  • Played on a sports team
  • Was motivated by success
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Felt at home in the outside, natural environment
  • Always knew exactly what I wanted to do
  • Engaged in activities such as fishing and berry picking

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