By Karen GartlandThe Globe and MailMay 30, 2017 12:00:12When Karen Gaudreau was 15, she took a test in a classroom at her local library that required her to pick out a “spirit” or “science” book and read a sentence aloud.
It was the equivalent of asking a grade schooler to name a particular colour.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so proud to be Canadian, I can read science books,'” says the Toronto-area girl.
She was a budding writer when she arrived at the University of Toronto in 2005 and quickly made a name for herself.
Her research led to a book about how to improve human health, and she was awarded a MacArthur Genius grant in 2011.
But that was before she was accepted into a new lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was designed to use science to help cure disease.
The lab’s founder, Dr. David Karp, was one of the first Canadian scientists to have access to the internet and computers in the U.S. in the late 1980s.
The Lab at MIT has been operating since 2005, and it is the first of its kind in Canada.
In fact, it’s the only lab in the country.
“They are really interested in really developing this kind of research and making sure it’s done in a way that’s not going to create more people suffering from diseases,” says Karp.
“And so, what I really want to see is people with the knowledge and the technology, and who are able to help in the most efficient way possible.”
At a recent workshop, a lab assistant explained the lab’s unique mission: “The goal is to help people with chronic conditions in developing countries to get better and better, and also to help them understand how we might be able to work with them and develop new therapies.”
In other words, it is to develop a better way to diagnose, treat and cure chronic diseases.
But is this the sort of work you would do in a lab?
Not at all, says Karratt.
“We want to work in the world of the laboratory and not the world that the patient might want to go to,” he says.
And the work isn’t limited to the lab.
The lab hosts a monthly event in which participants receive a personalized gift, including a gift of a tablet that will help them access information about the lab and how to sign up for more classes.
“It’s very much like going into a medical clinic.
You have to get to the point where you want to give it to them,” says Gaudres, who says she would recommend getting the gift even if you don’t want to be there.
But while there are many perks to being a lab volunteer, it can be tricky when you are just starting out.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot to be done.
And there’s also a lot you don of control over,” she says.”
In the lab, you don.
And you’re always making the decisions.
But there’s no one to tell you what to do.”
Karp says that, in addition to the challenges of being a new graduate student, there are also the risks of going to a lab without supervision.
“The lab environment is not ideal,” he adds.
“You have to do a lot more work in front of a lot less supervision.
And if you’re not sure if you can get away with it, you’re very likely to fail.”
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The Globe’s research editor, Laura Kelly, contributed to this report.