Unique Scientist: Dr. Samantha Wilson

Let’s welcome Dr. Samantha Wilson (She/her) and her daughter ‘Franki‘ (after Rosalind Franklin!) the corgi to our family! Dr. Wilson is a geneticist and computational biologist at University Health Network in Canada!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a geneticist by training, computational biologist by peer pressure. Currently, I’m using a chemical modification made to DNA (DNA methylation) and machine learning approaches to predict which pregnancies are at risk of developing preterm birth.

What made you want to become a scientist?
I have always been very curious and interested in how things worked. I fondly remember performing science experiments in my kitchen from a book I had about science experiments for kids. Not sure my parents appreciated the messes they made.

I became interested in genetics as my mom is adopted and there was always half of my family tree that I didn’t know. I think constantly asking questions about where my family came from, why my sister and I don’t look alike sparked my interest in genetics initially. I was later introduced to genetics as a career path in high school and become very interested in genetic causes of disease and how genetic variants influence phenotype. During undergrad, I was introduced to epigenetics and I found this new layer of genetics fascinating, and I have been studying it ever since.

“I think constantly asking questions about where my family came from, why my sister and I don’t look alike sparked my interest in genetics initially.”

Dr. Samantha Wilson

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
Not only am I a women in STEM, I am a first generation academic. Neither of my parents attended university, let alone grad school. While I have found support in my peers throughout my career, having a PhD can be very isolating as no one in my family really understands what I do, though they are proud. Navigating the academic system has definitely been a challenge. I was not aware that you could get a summer position in a lab and be paid for it until my third year of undergrad. Many volunteer positions are available, but I couldn’t afford not to be paid. I had no idea how to contact supervisors when applying to grad school or what questions to ask. I have definitely learned a lot and make an effort to support other first gen scientists along the road so they don’t have the same struggles I did.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I am a proud dog mom to Rosalind Franklin aka “Franki” the corgi. I am an avid hiker and try to get out most weekends to unplug. I play the clarinet. I also love to travel! Most recently I traveled to and hiked the grand canyon, and I am off to Sweden and Portugal in a couple weeks!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
The culture the negative results are not worth publishing. I think we would save a lot of money if we all published our negative results instead of having numerous groups do the same experiments and never communicate the results. It would also go a long way to stop sensationalized science or tweaking stats to get positive results as a means to papers published.

“I have definitely learned a lot and make an effort to support other first gen scientists along the road so they don’t have the same struggles I did.”

Dr. Samantha Wilson

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
There are a lot of people on this list. My ninth grade science teacher, Mr. Munro, was the first person to urge me to consider science as a career. He also made science fun and interesting, which kept me taking the subject throughout high school. I am also inspired by my peers. I think it’s easy to look at senior investigators and all that they accomplished and think “I can’t ever get there”, but when I see my peers succeed with the same or other challenges they had to face, it makes me think that I get accomplish those things as well.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
This week, I wrote code for a machine learning classifier in a programming language I am not at all experienced in. Never too old to learn new things!


#WomenInSTEM, #FirstGenSTEM #FirstGen

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