Matisz looking to make an impact

When Chelsea Matisz (BSc '05, MSc '09) began her academic journey at the University of Lethbridge in 2001, she wasn't sure what she wanted to be – knowing only that she loved studying biology and was good at it. Ten years, plenty of hard work and several incredible opportunities later, Matisz is a PhD student with a passion for parasitology, ecology and evolution who has earned the distinction of being an award winning research scientist.

Matisz began her research career during the summer of 2003 when she landed a job collecting data for one of her professors, Dr. Andrew Hurly.

"I spent the summer in a cabin at the University's field research station collecting data about the foraging behaviour of hummingbirds," recalls Matisz. "Once I realized that there were professors with different research projects going on and that they were looking for keen students to collect data, it was just a dream come true. I was amazed that I could get this kind of job and that I could get paid for it."

Chelsea Matisz
Alumna Chelsea Matisz recently won the prestigious Ashton Cuckler New Investigator Award.

During a course with Dr. Cameron Goater, Matisz became interested in parasitology so she jumped at the chance to work with parasites in Goater's lab. She spent a summer working as Goater's lab research assistant before completing her BSc in December 2005. The relationship she established with Goater led to Matisz pursuing a master's degree with Goater as her supervisor.

"We have a very unique situation in the Goater lab in that we can rear a parasite with a complex life cycle in the lab and we are able to control the age and density of the parasite; that offers some exceptional research avenues," explains Matisz.

Using the flathead minnow as an intermediary host, Matisz studied why two parasites migrated to specific areas (one to the minnow's brain, the other to its liver), how the parasites migrated and what the minnow's response was once the parasite made itself at home.

In 2007, Matisz was awarded the Meritorious Student Paper Award, after presenting her research at the First North American Parasitology Congress in Mexico. She continued to receive accolades for her work and in June this year she will be the first graduate student to be presented with the prestigious Ashton Cuckler New Investigator Award from the American Society of Parasitologists for work at the master's level. The award has previously gone to recently graduated PhD students only.

"This award means so much to me because it is validation for the work I have done. I feel immensely proud to get this," says Matisz.

Goater, who nominated Matisz for the award says, "There could be no better ambassador for our graduate program and for our University. I am thrilled to see her waive the U of L flag at the annual meeting in Anchorage."

Now that she is studying for her PhD at the University of Calgary, Matisz looks back on her graduate studies at the U of L with some degree of amazement.

"I had a great experience at the U of L. I was given such incredible resources in terms of support and expertise. Generating three publications for my masters was simply amazing. I don't feel like I could have done better anywhere else," she says.

Matisz admits there were times throughout her thesis project when she needed to clear her head, so she attended a variety of different lectures on campus.

"The lecturers reminded me why I was doing what I was doing. Seeing their passion was really motivating and helped me keep trucking on, although, there have been times in desperation that I've seriously considered abandoning research to be a musician or write fiction," laughs Matisz.

She completed her masters of science in biology with a 4.0 GPA in 2009. For nine months she worked as a research associate at the University through the Canadian Water Network, before spending another three months at the Alberta Provincial Laboratory for Public Health in Edmonton in advance of her PhD studies at the University of Calgary. Currently she is studying with Dr. Derek Mackay and Dr. Keith Sharkey, researching host-parasite interactions of the rat tapeworm in a mouse and how this can affect or modulate joint inflammation.

"I hope that my studies will one day have an impact on human health. It's amazing that parasites can potentially have a therapeutic role for inflammatory diseases – and I hope I can be a part of elucidating those mechanisms. That would be amazing," she says.


· Matisz also won the 2010 Medal of Merit and was a finalist for the Gold Governor General Award

· Matisz had her own radio show on CKXU, Music Soup, while she was at the U of L

· Matisz designed the cover for the edition of the International Journal of Parasitology which housed her very first publication

· Matisz has been awarded scholarships/grants in excess of $114,000

This story first appeared in the Legend. To view the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.