Using Science to Improve the World with Jackson Weir – Alumni Profile
Jackson Weir (he/him)
CWSF Finalist – 2018
CWSF Ambassador – 2019-2021
I walked away from each fair with an inspired sense that young scientists can make a difference – that I could make a difference.
After science fair shaped the way he sees the world, Jackson is letting his curiosity guide his work in addressing the enormous challenge that is cancer treatment. We chatted with Jackson about his adventures in STEM, here’s what he had to say.
1. Can you tell me about your science fair experience and how you got started?
In my final year of high school, I conducted an Advanced Placement (AP) Research project aiming to improve oil spill prediction software. I experimentally simulated small-scale spills and proposed corrections to improve surface spread prediction accuracy. My project was largely independent, and I had the freedom to formulate and test my own hypotheses. The experience shaped my methodical approach to scientific inquiry and developed my capacity to ask valuable questions.
I was initially hesitant to present my work at my regional science fair, so I am thankful to my AP Research teacher Mrs. Jocelyn Wells for her encouragement. My experiences at the Fundy Regional Science Fair, Canada-Wide Science Fair, and eventually the Prime Minister’s Science Fair, stand out as transformative moments in my life. I walked away from each fair with an inspired sense that young scientists can make a difference – that I could make a difference.
2. Can you tell me about your career journey up to this point?
I began studying biology at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in 2018. Much of my time at UNB was spent working in Dr. Tony Reiman’s cancer research lab at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick. Broadly, my research aimed to develop new approaches for treating multiple myeloma – a rare and incurable blood cancer. My early work focused on enhancing existing immunotherapy options through combination therapy. More recently, I identified several novel candidate immunotherapy targets in multiple myeloma using largely computational methods.
I was fortunate to be in a situation where I could complete my undergraduate degree at UNB in three years. After graduating in May 2021 with a BSc Biology (Honour’s) and Cell and Molecular Biology concentration, I am now a first year PhD student at Harvard University in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program. I am currently rotating in Dr. William Hahn’s lab at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute where my research seeks to map genetic interactions in cancer and deepen our understanding of malignant transformations.
3. What made you interested in pursuing this work?
Like most, cancer has touched my family deeply. In fact, 1 in 2 Canadians are diagnosed with the disease in their lives. I see cancer as one of the fundamental biomedical problems of my generation on the verge of diagnostic and therapeutic revolution. I want to contribute to this transformation.
4. How did your CWSF/science fair experience contribute to your life path/career goals?
Prior to science fair, I saw research as a possible accessory to whatever career path I chose, but not as the career path itself. CWSF showed me that full-time research can be a rewarding career and convinced me to commit my life to the scientific pursuit.
5. Are there any certain role models/people who inspire you?
I am grateful to several inspiring mentors who have supported me on my academic journey so far. I owe my initial interest in science to a group of amazing high school teachers who first ignited my curiosity: Mr. Jared Holder, Mrs. Amy Marshall, Mrs. Jocelyn Wells, Mr. Ryan Connors, and Mr. Scott Shepard. I owe my growth as a scientist and the current opportunities I have to my previous research supervisors Dr. Tony Reiman and Dr. René Malenfant. I would not be where I am today without support from many mentors, colleagues, and family members.
6. What STEM-related achievement are you most proud of?
My underlying motivation for pursuing science is its potential to improve the world around us. I am most proud of winning the 2019 Ingenium-NSERC STEAM Horizon Award because it recognized more than academic achievement. The award was given to students whose research and science outreach initiatives made a positive impact in our respective communities.
7. What are the main challenges facing you in your work?
Cancer is one of the most difficult problems we face in science. Many of the challenges associated with cancer research and treatment stem from its complexity and heterogeneity. Variation between cancer types, between patients, and within patients makes the development of unifying treatments a very challenging task.
8. What are the key learnings you’ve identified through your work?
A popular solution to overcoming between- and within-patient heterogeneity is personalized cancer medicine. Researchers aim to develop a toolbox of therapeutic options clinicians can use to treat each individual patient’s cancer in a personalized manner. My past work focused on identifying novel candidate treatment targets for traditional non-responders with the hope of expanding the number of treatable multiple myeloma patients.
9. What is one piece of advice you have for young scientists embarking on their project?
My biggest piece of advice is to avoid overthinking your initial project idea. Pick a problem that is meaningful to you, begin to ask interesting questions about that problem, and let science guide you the rest of the way. Curiosity is one of the most powerful tools we have as scientists, so follow your curiosity.
10. What do you hope the future looks like?
I am confident recent breakthroughs in biomedical research will translate positively to the clinical setting to reduce patient suffering. However, I worry these novel technologies and therapies will not be accessible to many patients in need across the globe. I hope academia, industry, and government can work together towards an equitable future in medicine.
11. What would you say to potential sponsors or partners of Youth Science Canada?
Canada-Wide Science Fair is so much more than a week-long event of presentations, field trips, and networking. CWSF shaped the way I see science, my future, and the world. Partnering with Youth Science Canada is a unique opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientists who will work at the forefront of scientific research for decades to come.