Michelle is the Scientific Director for Yukon’s SPOR SUPPORT Unit (YSPOR). YSPOR focuses on patient oriented health research. She has an enduring love for science, and the community, and has been interested in health research since beginning her higher education. She completed her B.Sc in Genetics and Immunology, before continuing her studies, completing a PhD in the largest fungal microbiology group in the world. Towards the end of her PhD, she received a highly competitive research grant from the Wellcome Trust in the UK to pursue research as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto. She worked with some of the world’s leading scientists in the field, exploring how pathogens use temperature as a cue to infect, with the idea that a warming climate could cause benign microorganisms to become pathogenic as they adapt to higher temperatures.
During her PhD and postdoctoral studies, she published over 20 peer reviewed articles in high impact journals, including in Nature family journals. She commanded over $500,000 in research grants, small grants and awards. She taught at both the Undergraduate and Postgraduate level, and mentored numerous students within the laboratory, guiding them to ask and explore their own questions while utilising different research approaches.
After her postdoctoral studies, she was offered an Assistant Professor position in Edmonton, but life had other plans. She took a short career break to focus on family, and moved to Whitehorse. With few options for health research in Yukon, she reached out to Dr Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and worked with him on several projects, including the 2018 health status report – Yukon’s largest health report detailing the health of Yukoners. The report focused on aging in place and took a multidisciplinary approach to the research and recommendations.
In 2019, she took a position as a policy advisor within the Government of Yukon to expand her skill set and learn how government translates research into policy. During this time, she worked on several high-profile files, including the Peel, Our Clean Future – Yukon’s climate change strategy, and land planning in Dawson. These files highlighted some of the history and contention between Yukoners, including First Nations and government, and how important it is to consult and work together for unity.
After 18 months with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, she moved to the Department of Health and Social Services as a policy analyst, where she supported the social supports division.
Like many others, she has made Yukon her home. The necessity for health research and a strong team to lead it has never been greater. Yukon has high rates of cancer mortality, drinking and substance use; the north is warming faster than the south. People are afflicted by floods, there are significant concerns for food security and mental health has taken a significant toll, especially during this pandemic. Yukoners are concerned about the lack of supports to age in place. New mothers are being impacted by post partum depression and anxiety, raising their children in isolation. Rates of depression and anxiety are rocketing in our youth. As Scientific Director of YSPOR, she is dedicated to ensuring the future development of the unit.
When it comes to our health, no one person should ever be left behind.