The Neuromuscular Disease Network for Canada

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Dr. Natasha Chang’s Blog

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About Dr. Chang

Dr. Natasha Chang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at McGill University. She obtained her PhD with Dr. Gordon Shore at McGill University studying BCL-2 family proteins and their role in regulating the cell survival autophagy pathway. Her studies highlighted a critical role for basal autophagy in the maintenance of skeletal muscle homeostasis. Dr. Chang performed her postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Rudnicki at the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. During her postdoctoral fellowship she made seminal contributions establishing the role of the dystrophin glycoprotein complex in regulating muscle stem cell fate. Importantly, she demonstrated that dystrophin deficiency in muscle stem cells leads to altered epigenetic gene regulation in the mdx mouse model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Dr. Chang’s research program at McGill investigates the molecular regulation of muscle stem cell biology in healthy and degenerative contexts with a focus on how cellular autophagy mediates muscle stem cell functions.

Dr. Chang's Blog

Reflections after one year as an Assistant Professor

August 1, 2020 marked my lab’s first birthday. The last 366 days have been quite a roller coaster ride (it was even a leap year!).

Having to build a lab from scratch is no easy task. I was literally given a room with empty benches and shelves. When eager undergraduate students asked if they could do their honours research project in my lab, I had to turn them down because my lab simply was not set up. With that in mind, I set January 2020 as my goal to have a functional lab. As a new PI on start-up funds, I knew that I had to apply for grants to try and secure external funding. I submitted 7 grants in the past year and each grant has been an intense learning experience. In December I participated in the CIHR ECR Observer program, which gives ECRs an opportunity to observe a CIHR grant review panel and absorb as much wisdom as they can over the 2 days of discussion. This was truly an eye-opening experience and has helped me to gain a better understanding of the grant review process. I highly recommend this program and am extremely grateful that I was able to participate at such an early stage in my career.

My lab welcomed its first student in January and a research assistant in February. Seeing an active research lab with lab members performing experiments was a thrilling and fulfilling feeling. I captured a mental picture of that moment to remember when things are tough that this is why I chose to pursue science. In March, it became clear that COVID-19 was going to affect our lives in unprecedented ways. It was an emotional experience for me as I shut down my lab that had just started to build momentum. Juggling PI responsibilities with two young kids at home was a huge challenge. What got me through those months of quarantine was having a solid support network that included my family and my colleagues. My department chair checked in with me on a weekly basis and mentors and peers were always just a Zoom call away. My lab cautiously reopened in June and I am working on rebuilding that research momentum, continuing to set up the lab, and preparing to welcome new students in the Fall.

I try to remind myself to appreciate every day that we are able to work in the lab and to use my time efficiently and prioritize the key experiments. I also remind myself to take a breath and find time to be present with my family. If I could give one piece of advice to junior scientists who are searching for a position it would be to find an environment that supports you. Life as a new PI is not easy but it makes a world of difference when you are surrounded by supportive people who want to help you succeed.