Scientist Spotlight: featuring Helina Gyasi

Helina Gyasi has been a student member of the EMGS since 2020. Since joining, she has made many connections within the society, leading to developments in her research, her participation in the Annual Meeting, and recognition for her work. Helina was initially drawn to the EMGS through the society’s specified interest in genomics and environmental toxicology. On her initial impression of the society, she said,

“Since my time as a biology student, I have been working to protect environmental health through the use of sound science, and I thought it was really amazing that there was a society like the EMGS that shared the same goals. I remember my first conference in 2020, and being very interested in the many sessions that were covered like rare mutations, epigenomics, genotoxicology, and risk assessment. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the EMGS, and I’ve really enjoyed the conferences. A lot of the professionals and colleagues were so excited to share their work, to hear from younger students about their own research, and to bring them into the society. I really like the welcoming aspect of the society where you can really share your ideas and get feedback on your work and in your career.”

During both the annual meeting and in her work at the Environment and Climate Change Canada’s National Wildlife Research Center with Dr. Jason O’Brien and research biologist Doug Crump, Helina has had the opportunity to meet many prominent individuals within the EMGS including Carole Yauk, Paul White, Francesco Marchetti, and other associated technicians, biologists, and students, all whom Helina cited as having influenced her academic and professional career.

One major instance of the EMGS impacting Helina’s career development occurred at the 2022 International Conference on Environmental Mutagens (ICEM). Helina acted as co-chair for the symposium “From Genomes to Ecosystems: What are the Ecological Consequences of Genotoxicity?” during which she gave her presentation, “Investigating the Mutagenicity of Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds from the Athabasca Oil Sands Region in River Otters and a Mammalian Cell Line.” Helina described the experience of acting as co-chair, stating,

“I’ve never done something like that before. My supervisor, Dr. Jason O’Brien, who was one of the chairs made it a very good experience. I got the opportunity to introduce the presenters and share my own research in eco-genotoxicology in an actual in-person setting with various professionals in attendance, which was an honor. Before that, my presentations were usually done virtually, because when I started my Master’s, after my first semester, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so this was my very first real in-person presentation.”

During the 2022 ICEM, Helina was awarded the Student Best Paper Award for her research article, “Microsatellite mutation frequencies in river otters (Lontra Canadensis) from the Athabasca Oil Sands region are correlated to polycyclic aromatic compound tissue burden,” published in February 2022 in Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis. Regarding her feelings towards that recognition, she said,

“I wasn’t expecting it at all! This was my first first-author paper that I have ever published as a student. To be able to be recognized is really amazing. I guess it’s also one of the perks of being an EMGS member, being able to be recognized for your work in that way. It was really just a great start to my career.”

Helina is currently working on publishing a follow-up paper to her award-winning research article as well as working as an evaluator at Environment and Climate Change Canada where she is conducting risk assessments of new substances to determine if they may be harmful to the environment. When asked how the research and activities of the EMGS impact her current work, she said,

“Although I’m not currently working in the field of mutagenesis or genomics, as a new evaluator at Environment and Climate Change Canada, I’m gaining experience in the field of risk assessment and contributing to program advances through my involvement in a New Approach Methods (NAMs) working group. So, there is work that I would love to share with the society, along with my repertoire of knowledge as I grow as an expert, wherever that research and experience may seem fit.”

As a student member herself, Helina offered a few final words of advice to her peers in the EMGS membership, saying,

“My advice is to step out of your comfort zone and seek engagement in the EMGS. If there is a SIG or a committee of interest, you can reach out to the members and learn more about the group and how you can be an active member. There are so many benefits to being a part of the EMGS. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of inspirational professionals in the society, many of whom are happy to interact and even possibly collaborate with you as a new student or a new investigator. Being a part of the EMGS provides access to a lot of emerging science and knowledge in the field, and it helps you keep up to date with current events which can inform your own study and research when you are an active part of the society.”

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