From Runway Model to Model Student
Posted 15 July 2011
by Maureen Paisley

Jacqueline Richelle is a Faculty of Science student entering her final year of her B.Sc. degree.  Although she always had an interest in science, at the age of 16, a very different opportunity presented itself.

As a high school student at Vincent Massey Collegiate, Jacqueline was scouted by a modeling agency, and as a result, she completed workshops in runway and photo-movement.  (She now teaches photo-movement.)  It didn’t take long before she was invited to participate in a 2-month modeling stint in China: complete with a photo portfolio and regular job bookings.

Always the serious student, Jacqueline took her pre-calculus and physics notes with her on her modeling trip so that she could teach herself the material and write her exams when she returned to Winnipeg (and to earth!).

Science vs. Modeling

The choice between the instant glamour of a modeling career and post-secondary education involving years of study and preparation was a hard one.  Jacqueline explains, “I did well in school, and I wanted to make use of that potential.  In the long term, I decided it would be more fulfilling to have a science-related career.  Modeling was more for fun than for a career.”

Was it the right choice?  Jacqueline says, “I’ll see.”

Choices in Science

Jacqueline chose the UM because, initially, she was considering both science and architecture, and the UM had such a wide range of courses.  She felt that particularly for science, choice was an important consideration.

She took the course:   Human Physiology I with Dr. Mark Fry and it really sparked her interest in physiology.   When her ultimate goal became a career in medicine, she felt research experience in the Biological Sciences Department would give her an opportunity to work in a research community aligned with medicine.

Muscle Anatomy and Physiology

In 2010, Jacqueline applied for the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA), and as she had hoped, she got a Biological Sciences research position.  She began working in Dr. Judy Anderson’s lab learning more about physiology – zebrafish muscle physiology to be precise.

As part of Anderson’s team, she was taught how to isolate skeletal muscle fibers from zebrafish.  Skeletal muscle fibers have satellite cells (the stem cells in muscle).  When you injure a muscle or exercise, the satellite cells are activated to repair or produce new cells for muscle growth.  The process to isolate the fibers with satellite cells that remain quiescent (not activated) is a tricky business, and requires a significant level of technique, knowledge of anatomy and a very gentle hand. 

Anderson is interested in the activation process itself, and finding new applications of research to help people suffering from muscular dystrophy or muscle atrophy in the elderly [Find out more about Anderson's research].

In May 2011, Jacqueline traveled with Anderson to “inStem”, the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, in India. This is an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology, located at and supported by the National Centre for Biological Sciences.  The purpose of the trip was to teach the fiber isolation technique to researchers at the Indian Institute. 

“I was surprised, and very excited to be asked.  Without the NSERC funding and the experience I had in Dr. Anderson’s lab, I would have never had the opportunity to travel to India” explains Jacqueline. 

What She Learned

Her experience working in a research lab had many benefits. 

“In undergrad courses, you learn the fundamentals and basic techniques that require following strict protocols in the lab.  When you work in a research lab, there is a lot more flexibility, both in what questions you want to answer and how you plan on answering them.  You use high-tech instrumentation to solve real questions, and you gain confidence.

When I originally got the USRA scholarship in Dr. Anderson’s research lab, I thought I would be more like a job, where I would simply be following steps and repeating procedures.  Instead, I spent the whole summer learning and absorbing new information.  You dive into one specific area, develop your critical thinking skills, and become more meticulous in your work.

Travelling to India also taught me that the research work we do here at the U of M is valued by researchers internationally.  We have opportunities right here at the UM that are admired elsewhere in the world,” explains Jacqueline.

Advice to Students

Adapt your degree to fit your interests.  Your first year physics, biology and chemistry courses can lead to work in ecology, genetics or physiology.  In University there are a lot of opportunities to branch out in science.  Take advantage of the opportunities.

Jacqueline Richelle as a model

In India in May 2011

Dr. Judy Anderson teaching the technique of isolating skeletal muscle fibers

Jacqueline in Dr. Anderson's Lab


Dr. Anderson's website

More about Dr. Anderson's Research 

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