March 2019

Laura Smithson is originally from Southern Ontario, Canada and received her  Bachelor in Biological Sciences from Brock University, St. Catharine’s, Ontario. She went on to receive her MSc and PhD in Neuroscience studies from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Currently, she is a UM postdoc in the lab of Catherine Collins (LSA, MCDB) and studies synaptic signaling and how it restrains axonal injury response by the dual leucine zipper kinase.  To learn more about Laura and about being a postdoc, read more below:

What was your route to the bench? What helped you reach your position?
Since early undergrad I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school and obtain my PhD. I love working with my hands and fixing problems so lab work and grad school made a lot of sense to me. I also knew early on that I had no interests in attending medical school. That instead I wanted to be the one to create solutions to health problems and to learn all about the finer details of how things work. I think that is why I have loved to focus on the cellular and molecular aspect of the nervous system. I love learning about that level of detail.

As for what helped me to reach this position, I would have to say that a lot of hard work and a lot of support/advice from those who have been here before. I also think that taking opportunities and making opportunities by being persistent have played a large part in where I am today.

Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path? If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
I 100% think that if you’re not failing at something you’re not trying hard enough, so I have, without doubt, failed at many things. At the time, I have felt that some of these missteps were going to affect my success but I always learn from them. Since I know that I learn the most through failure, I take the positives and try again. I tend not to worry about the concept of failure. I think one should worry more if they have never failed.

You are currently in your second postdoc, what motivated you to do that?
I decided to do a second postdoc for a few reasons; I’ll explain my main reason. For my first postdoc position I wanted to broaden my neuroscience background so I decided to branch out from nerve regeneration to instead study brain tumor formation. While at Washington University, I focused on mTOR signaling in the mouse brain. I was interested in the mTOR complex composition and function as it relates to cell growth. I knew early on in that position that I wanted to take this cell signaling knowledge and apply it to a model organism that I was going to use for my own independent research; I didn’t want to work with rodents for my next 30 years. I also wanted to be a part of the axon regeneration field again. This topic was the reason why I became so interested in the nervous system and why I chose the neuroscience program (at Queen’s University in Ontario) for graduate school. My current research focuses on axonal injury signaling in Drosophila melanogaster. I really enjoy that my current research has merged my interests and experience together.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Hopefully not a postdoc 🙂 In the next 5 years, I hope to be an independent investigator. I would love to teach and do research.

Do you plan on going to a tenure track position? 
That is my plan right now but it does not have to be a tenure track position.

What are your hobbies/interest outside of lab?
Aside from sleep, I love taking my dogs to the park or out for a walk. Also as a true Canadian, I love hockey and I play 2-3 times per week.