Dr. Kimberley Samkoe (U'01)

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Changing Course for a Love of Research

As an undergraduate, Kimberley Samkoe’s (U’01) interest in science and medicine were pointing her toward a career as a medical doctor; however, her passion for research was also formidable. In the end, she would don a white coat, but it would be in the research laboratory, not in the healthcare system.

Kimberley first discovered the appeal of research work while completing her Bachelor of Science degree. While still intending to apply to medical school after convocating in 2001, Kimberley headed to the University of Calgary to spend a year working. A meeting with a department of Chemistry professor to discuss work as a research assistant was a turning point: “By the time I left his office, he’d convinced me to at least try a Master’s degree,” she recalls.

Her work as a graduate student only deepened her love of research work, and the allure of medical school began to fade: “I really liked grad school. With research, you’re doing something different every day and problem-solving, which is my favourite thing to do. It’s extremely rewarding. I’d found something I was more interested in than medical school.” As a Master’s student, she took advantage of the option to challenge the candidacy of the PhD program and made the decision to forgo medical school altogether if she passed the qualifying exam, as this meant she would be able to bypass her Master’s and head straight into her PhD. and that is exactly what happened.

In 2007, she completed her PhD and began a post-doctoral fellowship at Dartmouth College, where she remains today as assistant Professor of surgery at the Geisel school of Medicine as well as a faculty member in optics in Medicine. She currently runs a research lab with a post-doctoral fellow and two PhD graduate students, and is also involved in running a clinical trial that is researching improving a technique called florescence guided surgery, which assists surgeons in being better able to distinguish healthy from cancerous tissue.

Kimberley’s work has not gone unnoticed. In August 2018, she received an NIH R37 MERIT award (Method to Extend Research in Time) from the national Cancer Institute. The award adds an additional two years of funding to the five years of funding she received from her Research Project Grant (R01). “I didn’t expect to be nominated,” she says of the R37 grant. “Typically they are awarded to more senior scientists, doing extraordinary research.”

In the grand scheme of things Kimberley is still a relatively new researcher in her field. As such, being honoured with this grant is indicative of her success. In acknowledging her achievements, however, Kimberley also gives credit to those around her: “It’s to Dartmouth’s credit and the people that I work with there. The research team that I’m involved with and have been since I was a post-doctoral fellow – we’re really collaborative. I have very successful colleagues who are giving with their time, support, and knowledge. I’ve had wonderful mentorship and support.”

Indeed, Kimberley sees mentorship and support as truly rewarding aspects of her job: “Part of how I got here was the interest and support of people when I was going through school. They pointed me [in the right direction], so I really try to take it upon myself to have conversations with students – about life – how to balance life and being a researcher – that’s one of the most rewarding parts. When you get someone in your lab and you can see that they become inspired to solve that problem, take the next step. You can see it click for them and become a passion.”

For Dr. Kimberley Samkoe, the continual search for answers that will improve human life and human health motivates her like nothing else: “I’m not a doctor treating patients, but the work I’m doing is directly relevant to humans. The work we’re doing can improve patient outcomes and that’s so exciting.”