Spotlight: Tetyana Pekar – Writing Through Science
By: Danielle D. DeSouza
For most graduate students, thesis defense preparations can elicit mixed emotions. It is not uncommon for anxiety to follow the initial period of elation as the reality of thesis writing sets in. For a rare few, like Tetyana Pekar, thesis writing is a far less daunting process, and is in fact, rather enjoyable. Although early in her career, she already has ample experience in writing and editing. Combined with her genuine passion for science, Pekar makes scientific writing seem effortless.
Pekar first gained exposure to research during her undergraduate education in neuroscience at the University of Toronto. She was drawn to science because she values critical thinking and appreciates the importance of the scientific method as a tool to explain the world around us. She commented, “To be the first to discover or to understand some aspect of nature—no matter how small—is really a privilege.”
While completing her undergraduate degree, Pekar was fine-tuning her writing and editing skills by contributing to two peer-reviewed undergraduate journals: the Journal of Undergraduate Life Sciences (JULS) and the Journal of Young Investigators (JYI). Her writing skills were quickly acknowledged, and she was awarded the 2009 National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)-JULS Best Review Article Award for her article on the genetic and neurobiological etiology of anorexia nervosa.1
Pekar currently studies neuroscience at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Mount Sinai Hospital. Her work in elucidating the role of an evolutionary conserved protein kinase in neuronal development and function in C. elegans has earned her a Julie Payette NSERC Research Scholarship, awarded to the top 24 master’s level applicants across Canada, in addition to other notable honours.
Outside of her studies, Pekar continues to have a strong interest in eating disorders. Earlier this year, she created a blog called Science of Eating Disorders (SEDs; http://www.scienceofeds.org). SEDs’ goal is to make peer-reviewed eating disorder research accessible and understandable for the public. While other eating disorder blogs focus primarily on the process of recovery, Pekar wanted to focus on translating and disseminating the findings of eating disorder research. What makes SEDs especially unique is that all bloggers—three at the time of writing this article—have both a science background and a personal history of struggling with an eating disorder, allowing the articles to be enriched by their personal experiences.
“It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done,” Pekar said about the SEDs project. “To get comments from readers saying, ‘Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this article,’ is so rewarding.” She added with a laugh, “Besides, I can do this in my spare time to get a break from reading papers about worms!”
Outside of her lab work and blogging, Pekar actively participates in other endeavours that have helped her develop her writing and editing skills. She is a private tutor for individuals seeking to improve their writing, study biology, and prepare for the GRE. Pekar is also an Assistant Managing Editor for the IMS Magazine, and has co-authored multiple peer-reviewed publications, including one in the distinguished journal, Nature Neuroscience.2
Currently in the midst of thesis writing, I asked Pekar about her plans following the completion of her Master’s degree. She expressed a desire to take the knowledge she has gained from her degree in the IMS and apply it to public policy. She elaborated by explaining that she wishes to use the critical thinking and research skills she has developed throughout her scientific training to help progress and promote evidence-based public policies.
While defending her thesis later this year may mark the end of Pekar’s journey in the IMS, it is clear that this is only the beginning of her bright future in a field that will undoubtedly benefit from her strength in writing and communication.
1. Pekar, T. (2009). Genetic and neurobiological etiology of anorexia nervosa. University of Toronto Journal of Undergraduate Life Sciences (JULS), 3:79-81.
2. Cole, C.J., Marcaldo, V., Restivo, L., Yiu, A.P., Sekeres, M.J., Han, J.-H., Vertere, G., Pekar, T., Ross,P.J., Neve, R.L., Frankland, P.W. and Josselyn, S.A. (2012). MEF2 negatively regulates learning-induced structural plasticity and memory formation. Nature Neuroscience, 15:1255–64.