After being recruited to the University of Calgary and the biomedical sciences program from her hometown of Kamloops, Caitlin Calder-Bellamy knew her path was going to be different from her classmates.
Unlike many of her fellow Bachelor of Health Sciences graduates, she prefers the lab coat to the stethoscope.
“Med school was never really on the table for me,” Calder-Bellamy says. “I’ve always enjoyed problem-solving and thinking outside of the box to find solutions and helping people has always been a focus of mine.”
With parents who worked in research and academia, Calder-Bellamy knew research was a way to put her problem-solving passion to use to help people. While initially unsure of what kind of research she would do, a connection close to her heart provided inspiration.
Grandmother's experience inspired a direction
“My grandmother had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” Calder-Bellamy says. “She was such a lively and vibrant person, but her respiratory health slowed her down and prevented her from living the life she wanted to.”
With respiratory health as her area of focus, Calder-Bellamy got to work. She joined Stop Addicting Adolescents to Vaping and E-Cigarettes (SAAVE), a club of students and health-care researchers dedicated to lobbying governments at all levels for stricter regulation on vaping and e-cigarette products.
She recently defended her honour’s thesis under the supervision of Dr. Mark Giembycz, PhD, from the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in the Cumming School of Medicine. In this project, Calder-Bellamy did a lot of lab research to determine how a drug can mechanistically help with COPD.
In her second year, Calder-Bellamy added geography as her minor, and began doing research with Dr. Stefania Bertazzon, PhD, a professor in the Faculty of Arts, Department of Geography.
Search for a traffic/asthma connection
Together, they looked at the association between asthma and traffic-related pollution in the City of Calgary. They discovered air pollution increases in a gradient-like manner from the southwest to northeast quadrants of Calgary, and that asthma-related emergency room visits could be linked.
She added to that research by looking at the socio-economic status of those most effected by the pollution. “It is very Calgary-focused,” Calder-Bellamy says. “It’s very local and definitely pertinent to people across the city.”
By combining biomedical sciences with geography, she was able to home in on the intersection of human health and the environment, an area she had always been interested in.
“I’ve loved combining the two,” she says. “I know it’s not a typical combination, but UCalgary gave me the resources to explore my personal areas of interest and let me answer my own burning questions.”
Connecting with future students
Research isn’t the only thing Calder-Bellamy has dedicated her time to while at UCalgary. Once the student being recruited, she is now the recruiter working for the university. “It was a fun full-circle moment,” she says.
As part of her role with the Undergraduate International Recruitment Team, Calder-Bellamy travels as far as Africa to recruit students to attend UCalgary.
“I love being able to connect with people,” she says. “Building connections and being personable is something I feel I have strength in.”
The ability to travel throughout the African continent has also inspired Calder-Bellamy’s next steps. She noticed there are opportunities to help in international development and continue to help people with access to health care and preventative health measures.
“In Canada, we’re so lucky having access to high quality health care and education, and I want everyone to access these things. It’s a human right,” Calder-Bellamy says. “I’m inspired to find a way to bring these things to people all over the world.”