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Trainee Travel Award Enhances Research Experience

Dr. Mihaela Pop speaks at a conference.

By Eleni Kanavas

Graduate students and research fellows are often confronted with expensive costs when looking to participate in national or international conferences. Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) is committed to providing support for trainee activities by offering students financial assistance through the Trainee Travel Award Program to enhance their research experience.

Since 2007, SRI has given 57 awards to trainees engaged in research under the supervision of an SRI scientist. Winners receive $1,000 to cover conference registration fees, accommodations and transportation expenses from the event.  Students may apply for the competitive award every year.

Dr. Mihaela Pop, a postdoctoral fellow in medical biophysics, has received the Trainee Travel Award twice and used it to participate in two international conferences. She is working with Dr. Graham Wright, director of the Schulich Heart Research Program and professor of medical biophysics at the University of Toronto. Here, she describes her learning experience and the skills she's gained through the process.

What is your research focus?

My research is focused on using biomedical imaging and cardiac computer models to characterize the substrate of abnormal rhythms developed by patients who suffered a heart attack. I specifically work on building 3-D MR (magnetic resonance) image-based computer models and their experimental validation using state-of-the-art electrophysiology tools. Such predictive models allow us to have a 'virtual' look into the heart and help us understand how the abnormal electrical waves propagate and generate high heart rhythms, potentially lethal. These models will be soon integrated into clinical applications, with final aims to help diagnose and plan therapy for these patients, as well as to predict therapy outcome.

How would you describe your experience with the travel award?

I am very grateful for receiving the award twice. It helped ease the financial burden associated with travelling to an international conference. I received the first award when I was a PhD graduate student and was fortunate to participate as a scholar in an International Summer School on Biomedical Imaging, organized by EMBS (Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society) in Berder, France. This biennial event brings together world-renowned teachers and research leaders in the biomedical imaging field, for an intense week of lectures, seminars as well as presentations from the participating scholars. The school's objectives are to provide up-to-date, state-of-the-art knowledge in emerging areas, and to address important issues dealing with complex, multivariate systems and with rapidly evolving technological fields, from basic to applied research. 

What conference did you attend the following year?

I presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society held in Boston, Massachusetts. The meeting brings together over 6,000 biophysicists in academia and industry. My presentation was on optical mapping of ventricular fibrillation in infarcted hearts, an experimental method used to obtain detailed activation maps of the heart, from which we can better understand the causes of abnormal excitation occurring in hearts with myocardial infarct (following a heart attack).

How did presenting at the conferences improve your skills?

I really enhanced my professional development and research capabilities as an individual scientist. Moreover, I had the opportunity to present my research work, and discuss and start collaborations with several international senior and junior researchers, and obtain positive feedback from colleagues working in the field.

Did you receive any guidance from your supervisor?

Yes; Dr. Wright has always guided and mentored me in every aspect of my research, including thorough preparation for conference presentations. It is a tradition in our group that we always rehearse the presentations with our colleagues and supervisor and prepare answers for potential questions. 

What advice do you have for other trainees?

Apply for this award because it helps pay the costs associated with participation at conferences and workshops. It's an opportunity for students to present their work and learn about leading-edge technology, as well as to meet prospective collaborators and employers.

For more information, visit or contact Merle Casci, coordinator, SRI Trainee Centre at 416-480-5741 or

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