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Faculty of Medicine PhD Candidate wins award at CIHR Poster Competition

Posted by Jodi Butler on August 1, 2018 in News

Shannon Hall, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Medicine, recently won the Gold Award at the CIHR National Poster Competition at the Canadian Student Health Research Forum (CSHRF) in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The CSHRF is an annual event for graduate students across Canada where they can present their work and be recognized for their contributions to the field of health research. Ms. Hall, under the supervision of Dr. Kazue Semba of the Department of Medical Neuroscience, was nominated to attend the CSHRF for having excelled academically within the top 5% of doctoral students in the health sciences at Dalhousie University.

 “I was delighted to receive this opportunity since I am passionate about sharing research outcomes and science-related knowledge with the public,” says Hall.

And what does this award-winning research look like? Sleep loss and its affect on the brain.

Sleep loss is common in today’s 24/7 society, and that can increase the risk for serious health problems. The human body can adapt to long term sleep loss, though it may come with the cost of negatively affecting a person’s health over time.

Hall recently discovered that chronic sleep loss activates the brain’s immune cells, called microglia, to initiate processes in the brain that may alter sleep and wake patterns.

“I’m investigating whether this sleep loss-induced microglia activation alters the functioning of brain cells that may contribute to the adaptive sleep responses to chronic sleep loss,” Hall explains.

“By understanding how chronic sleep loss affects the brain, my research aims to uncover a possible new therapeutic target to treat those suffering from chronic sleep loss as well as sleep disorders.”

Hall’s work goes beyond her research. She plans on following her love of science and her excitement for sharing knowledge with the public to a career in science communication.

“Sometimes I feel like lab research is its own little bubble,” she says. “Focusing efforts on improving the dialogue between scientists and the public may change the way society views scientific research and can help take us out of that bubble.”

Over the past four years as a PhD student, Hall has realized how important it is to use different approaches to engage different audiences. And she’s had a lot of practice.

“As a PhD student, something you get really good at is trying to convince others that your research is important. We do this when applying for scholarships and grants or presenting at conferences. We remind ourselves on a daily basis why we are doing what we’re doing,” she says.

Hall’s experience writing for different audiences have given her insight into how to creatively engage multiple audiences, and she’s excited to use that knowledge.

“I want to communicate to people in a way that not only allows them to understand my research, but also tells them why they should care,” she says.

With exciting advancements in human health happening all the time, it’s understandable why Hall finds scientific communication so enthralling.

“I would love to not only make research more accessible, but to use creative ways of thinking to share my research and love for science.”