Michael Laflamme is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. He works with pluripotent stem cells that have the potential to repair the heart after a heart attack. We asked him everything from alternate professions to his greatest satisfaction as a researcher in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.
What do you like most about being a researcher?
I enjoy asking questions, posing hypotheses, and designing experiments to answer those questions/hypotheses.
Also, it may even be a bit selfish, but occasionally in science, there’s a really satisfying moment just after you make an observation or a discovery and realize that you’ve just learned something about how the world works (no matter how small or unimportant!) that nobody else knows yet.
Sharing such a result is, of course, its own reward. There are actually more opportunities for this experience early in your career when you’re a student or postdoc and get to knock on your supervisor’s door and say, “Guess what I just found out…”.
What advice would you give young researchers?
- Read(!) and understand the scientific literature as much as you can before starting any experiment.
- You’ll often learn more from the well-designed experiment that doesn’t work than from the poorly-designed one that does.
- As you’re performing your experiments and collecting data, go ahead and make figures whenever possible as you go. For example, if you’ve just snapped a bunch of photomicrographs, assemble them into a PowerPoint slide right away. This practice will help you think about how to assemble your data into a coherent story, and it will save you time in the long run.
- Get a copy of Edward Tufte’s ‘Visual Display of Quantitative Information’.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished N.K. Jemison’s, ‘The Broke Earth Trilogy’, and am now reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography (upon which the musical is based).
What do you like to do for fun?
Reading, watching classic movies, collecting original movie posters, playing soccer, and beer-tasting.
If you could do any profession other than your own, what would it be?
Historian or archaeologist.
Aside from things for your survival, what item would you most want to have with you on a deserted island?
Does caffeine count as a survival item? If so, then my Amazon Kindle with one of those third-party solar-powered battery cases.