Dr. Mireille Khacho shares her advice for achieving success in science

Dr. Mireille Khacho sitting in the lab in front of a computer showing stem cells.

“If this is truly the path that you want, don’t let anyone convince you that it’s not possible.”

Dr. Mireille Khacho

In the world of academia, postdoctoral fellows are considered some of the most important drivers of innovation and discovery in Canada.

Dr. Mireille Khacho was recently a postdoctoral fellow in the Ruth Slack lab, and is now enjoying further success with her own lab as a principal investigator.

This is the final in a series of postdoctoral profiles to bring attention to the Faculty of Medicine’s 10th annual Postdoctoral Research Day.


Q & A with Dr. Mireille Khacho

Q: As a youngster, what attracted you to the world of science?

A: By nature, I’ve always been a curious and inquisitive person. I recall as a child, I would pester my parents asking question after question and wanting to know how everything works. As I got older I became fascinated by science and biology. I remember those were always my favorite classes in school.

Q: You’ve been studying stem cells function for many years—what started you down this path?

A: Like many things in science this was completely random and simply stumbled upon out of curiosity. It all started when I happened to notice something weird in the developing brains of an animal model of mitochondrial dysfunction that I was studying at the time. I never thought it would lead me to the discoveries that I’ve made, or that I would establish an independent research program focused on stem cell research based on an experiment I did one day out of sheer curiosity.

Q: Congratulations on rising through the ranks all the way to Principal Investigator with your own lab! Do you have any advice for young women considering this same path?

A: My primary advice to young women considering this path is to never give up—perseverance can take you a long way. If this is truly the path that you want, don’t let anyone convince you that it’s not possible. I think, as women, it is in our nature to always second-guess our abilities and ourselves. The path to becoming a PI is quite long and a competitive one. It’s easy to get caught up with negativity, which unfortunately seems to linger over academia these days, so it’s important to maintain a positive outlook especially during the last phase of training as a postdoctoral fellow.

Q: What skills did you learn as a postdoctoral fellow in the Ruth Slack lab that prepared you for your current role as a PI?

A: Being in the Slack lab has of course taught me many valuable scientific skills at the technical and intellectual level. But it is the interpersonal skills that I learned under the mentorship of Dr. Ruth Slack that have prepared me for this current role as a PI. From day one, Dr. Slack has emphasized to me the importance of networking, communication and collaborations within the scientific community. Being a more reserved person, this constant push to strengthen my interpersonal skills has really been invaluable to me and taken me a long way.

Q: How would you describe your current research, and why it’s so important, to the average person?

A: Muscle degeneration resulting from aging or muscle wasting diseases, such as muscular dystrophies, myopathies and other neuromuscular conditions, is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Skeletal muscle is normally endowed with a remarkable capacity to regenerate, which is dependent upon resident muscle stem cells that can maintain and repair muscle tissue. However, during aging and in progressive muscle diseases, this feature is severely impaired by the decline in number and function of muscle stem cells. Though it is clear that loss of regenerative capacity exacerbates muscle atrophy, the reason for the decline in muscle stem cells in these conditions has been unclear. Therefore, understanding the underlying etiological factors leading to exhaustion of the muscle stem cell pool is instrumental in identifying novel approaches to reestablish muscle regeneration and restore function. The overarching goal of this research program is to restore muscle stem cell number and function in order to promote muscle regeneration during aging and muscle degenerative diseases.

Q: What excites you about your work?

A: Everything! I feel so lucky that every day I have an unlimited opportunity to discover and learn. I can honestly say that I’m never bored.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

A: I love to travel to discover new places, and their culture and people.


Want to meet more postdocs?

Read our profile of Marie-Claude Bourgeois-Daigneault.

Read our profile of Manuel Ahumada Escandon.

The Postdoctoral Fellowship: a critical rung on the ladder to scientific success

A postdoctoral fellowship is completed between a PhD and a permanent faculty position in science, helping lay the foundation for a successful career in health research and science.

Securing a university faculty position is competitive, with perhaps hundreds of applicants for a single job posting. Catching an employer’s eye requires producing quality research and work experience with top institutions and investigators. Postdoctoral fellowships help researchers do this.

In not having to juggle the course load that a student would, postdocs are able to devote more time to research, and contribute enormously to an institution’s research and publication intensity. Training to become principal investigators themselves, postdocs also mentor and train lab members by sharing techniques, knowledge and ideas, and are instrumental to the smooth running of many laboratories.


Main photo credit: Chonglu Huang

Photo of Dr. Mireille Khacho

Dr. Mireille Khacho

Photo credit: Mélanie Provencher

Stained section of brain tissue showing stem cells and mitochondria.

Stained section of brain tissue showing stem cells and mitochondria.

Photo credit: Dr. Mireille Khacho during her postdoctoral studies.


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