Monday, January 14, 2013

January Student Profile: Sarah McConnachie

This month, we're featuring Sarah McConnachie, a Ph.D. student at Atlantic Veterinary College. Sarah is also one of the co-chairs of the Student Involvement Committee for the AFS-Fish Health Section. Read on to learn more about Sarah and her research.

Picture: male Sockeye salmon on the Weaver Creek Spawning Channel; Agassiz, British Columbia, Canada

1. What is your research/position?
I am a Ph.D. student in the Department of Pathology and Microbiology at Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island, Canada. My professor is part of NSERC's (the Canadian equivalent to NSF) Canadian Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture Network that was formed to investigate the feasibility of implementing multitrophic aquaculture. My research investigates a specific disease that effect cultured Pacific salmon that may be complicated by the addition of different trophic components (e.g., mussels). I look at the ecological interaction of Loma salmonae (my study parasite) among salmonids, mussels and the benthic environment. I am also looking into some specifics of the parasite itself in terms of pathogenesis.

2. What sparked your interest in aquatic animal health?
I spent a lot of my childhood in the Catskill region of NY State.  My interest in fisheries began quite early, as I would spend my time exploring the Beaverkill River and its prized inhabitants.  But, I didn’t realize I could have a career in fisheries until completing my undergraduate degree at Cornell University.  I was involved with some research at a field station on Oneida Lake and was lucky to run into Dr. Paul Bowser at the vet college.  I ended up working as a research assistant in his lab just as Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia became an issue in the Great Lakes.  I have always had an interest in animal health, but didn’t realize I could marry that interest with fisheries until my experience with Dr. Bowser - so I really must give him a lot of credit.  Thanks Dr. B!

3. What has been your favorite fisheries-related job?
I’ve been lucky to have a few so far.  During my MSc I worked with aboriginal groups and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans in British Columbia.  I spent a summer and fall following salmon as they migrated to spawning grounds up the Fraser River.  It was neat to see all aspects of the migration and how different fisheries groups interacted with the fish and each other.  However, my favorite experience has to be my honor’s and technician work at the Cornell Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake, NY.  The field station is beautiful and I was lucky to work with some great people and be involved with some really interesting research projects.  I collected data for both long- and short-term ecological and fisheries projects.  

4. What do you like most about graduate/professional school?
I enjoy being able to work freely on the scientific process.  I have always had an inquisitive mind and am happy to be doing something that allows me to ask, and answer, a million different questions.  I also enjoy the opportunities for travel and collaboration.

5. When and why did you first become involved with AFS and the FHS?
I first joined AFS in 2006 in order to attend the Lake Placid meeting, and have been a member ever since.  I have attended several main meetings to present work from my undergrad and my MSc.  I have been involved with the best paper committee, the NY and Ontario subsections, and the Canadian Aquatic Resources Section (CARS).  I joined the FHS in early 2012, when I renewed my membership and realized that my interests aligned most with this section. 

6. What are your long-term professional goals (FHS or otherwise)?
I hope to stay involved with the FHS throughout my PhD and beyond.  In terms of career, the clinical aspect of fish health interests me so I am still contemplating attending veterinary school following my PhD.  I enjoy research so I do see myself in academia, but would also be happy with a research career in government.  For now I will keep pursuing my interests and see where the chips fall.

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