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Women in Entomology Series
Heather Coatsworth

This post is the first in a new series featuring interviews with Canadian women working in or studying entomology.


Left: Heather looking through one of their lab’s colony cages, which hold around 200 mosquitoes. Right: Heather blood feeding their lab’s mosquito colony. Since Aedes aegypti are extremely anthropophilic, the colony remains much healthier if fed human blood!

Q: What are you studying or working on right now?

HC: I am currently finishing up my PhD at Simon Fraser University. I use a mixture of molecular biology, bioinformatics and ecology to tease apart virus transmission dynamics in mosquitoes. Specifically, I am attempting to identify, characterize and mimic dengue refractory mechanisms in Aedes aegypti, with the ultimate goal of creating genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the burden of dengue.

Q: What led you to your specific field of study or work?

Heather solution solving with a good friend, Dr. Ramírez Martínez, from Universidad de Guadalajara.

HC: Growing up, I was curious about medical careers and had (still do!) an extreme interest in and fondness for animals. During that time, I also suffered from an irrational fear of blood (haemophobia), which put a large damper on continuing in a medical field. Sticking with my love for animals, I completed my BSc at the University of Guelph in Zoology and gained indispensable research experience in Dr. Alex Smith’s molecular ecology lab. I took some time off after completing my undergraduate degree and found myself drawn to the field of medical entomology. This led me to my current position at Simon Fraser University under the supervision of Dr. Carl Lowenberger, an entomologist and parasitologist with a keen interest in insect immunity.

Q: When did you first become interested in science and entomology?

HC: As a child I loved collecting insects and keeping them as short-term friends and pets. I loved how interconnected science was with nature and how my curiosity was rewarded and encouraged in science classes. My analytical, detail-oriented mind enjoyed the consistent process by which science was often conducted. Although I knew by the end of high school that I wanted to pursue a career in science, it took me many more years to fully realize my interest and passion for the field of entomology.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your research or work?

HC: I love the multidisciplinary nature of my work, the international collaborations it has spawned, and its larger connectivity to the public.

First meet and greet with the lab mascot, Acorn, Heather’s dapple wiener dog.

Q: What are your interests outside of academic life or work?

HC: I’m a sports enthusiast, both watching (I’m an obsessive Detroit Red Wings fan) and playing (ice hockey, tennis, and soccer). I love being in nature in any form possible – walking, hiking, camping, lounging etc. I also enjoy training my wiener dog, Acorn; listening to rap and hip-hop music; and drinking all the craft beers Vancouver has to offer.

Q: What are your future plans or goals?

HC: I would love to continue arbovirus genomics research in an academic environment and learn more about computer science and bioinformatics. I would also love to build and live in my own portable tiny house.

Q: Do you have any advice for young students that may be interested in science and/or entomology?

HC: Never stop exploring, reading, and asking questions. Join clubs and forums that interest you, and reach out to people who are doing things you think are cool and interesting. Keep an open mind, and take some time to get to know the insects around you.

A rare sighting of a formal mosquito.

 

All photos supplied by Heather Coatsworth.

 

This post is also available in: English