Rising to the challenge

May 30, 2023 Faculty of Science graduate Sadie Graves on paying it forward at the University of Waterloo By Sharon McFarlane Faculty of Science Graduating BSc student Sadie Graves loves a challenge. Now, with a co-op degree in life physics under her belt, she feels she’s met Waterloo’s challenge head on and is ready to dive deeper into her academic and professional career.

Biology had always been a great interest for Graves. She excelled in biology during her high school days in Ottawa. But then one particular course and a teacher with a unique style made her think about physics as an area to pursue at university.

"At first I wasn’t doing as well in physics as in my other courses," she says. "We were learning in a group setting that challenged me to work harder to grasp the concepts and fit them together to solve bigger and more complex problems. That lit a fire. I was engaged in what I was learning and needed to know more."

Realizing a move far from home would give her the push she needed, Graves came to the University of Waterloo for its co-op program and rich academic culture.

She chose to study life physics and quickly thrived in a world where biology and physics intersect. She found a special interest in niche medical questions and applications that use physics to solve biological problems.

Alongside her own academic program, Graves wanted to become more involved in the life of the University. She became a science ambassador in second year to help future students decided their academic path. She also became a mentor with PhysiX: Girls Matter, a Waterloo science outreach workshop and panel discussion that encourages and engages female and non-binary students in grades 7 and 8 to explore physics.

"I think role models are really important to young girls," she says. "We need to boost their confidence and allow them safe spaces to learn and make mistakes, explore and stick with it. I think in traditional learning environments girls get embarrassed about making mistakes. I think these opportunities will really boost women in STEM in the years to come."

In her final year, Graves was also a teaching assistant for a first-year biology lab.

Dr. Brenda Lee, continuing lecturer and associate chair of the Department of Physics, has nothing but praise for Graves and her future in academia.

"Sadie is a rising star in biophysics," Lee says. "She is extremely bright, forges her own path to her dreams and radiates enthusiasm for science through outreach activities. I can’t wait to see how she will make a difference in her field and in the lives of everyone she touches."

After convocation, Graves will be continuing her education at the University of British Columbia in biophysics. With so many incredible advances in biotechnology, Graves is excited to begin, and looking forward to being part of novel treatments and therapies for fighting disease.

She’ll be focusing on therapeutics and the mechanisms by which various drug therapies travel through the body. Specifically, she’ll be studying the dynamics of tiny objects called lipid nanoparticles.

Further down the road, she sees herself ultimately becoming a university professor, a career she knows will keep her fulfilled and challenged as she passes the spark of learning onto the next generation. 

As for advice she might give to new class of students arriving in September, Graves doesn’t sugar-coat academic life and what it takes to succeed.

"Push yourself, take risks, be scared," she says. "But don’t let your fear keep you on the sidelines."