Oct. 26, 2022

How an average student became a superstar scientist

2022 Top 40 Under 40: Dr. Jiami Guo, PhD, assistant professor of cell biology and anatomy; New York Stem Cell Foundation: Robertson Neuroscience Investigator
Jiami Guo
Jiami Guo Avenue Magazine

For all you average students — or anxious parents of average students — this one’s for you. The first Canadian to receive the prestigious Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Award from the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) — a program that supports promising early career scientists whose cutting-edge research shows potential for treatments and cures — was Dr. Jiami Guo, PhD. Self-described as a “mediocre student” throughout most of her schooling in China, Guo eventually got funding to complete her PhD at Ohio’s Kent State University where she got interested in cilia — tiny antennae-like structures in most cells — and their connection to neurological disorders. And this deep love changed everything. Since moving to Calgary four years ago, Guo’s research has attracted more than $3.5 million in grants. She now runs a lab at the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute in the Cumming School of Medicine that conducts neuroscience research, mentors grad students and postdoc fellows, and teaches developmental neuroscience at the grad level. “I just needed to find something that I loved,” explains the 39-year-old.

What has been your biggest career highlight?

Getting the NYSCF Robertson Award. Just a few short years ago, I hadn’t even published one paper, so this came as a huge surprise. My research focuses on the important function of primary cilia in brain development.

What is the most satisfying thing about your job?

Studying and discovering the nature of the brain.

If you were to go back to school, what would you take?


What do you wish you knew more about?


Who is your biggest hero?

My dad who is a writer in China. He always wanted me to be an independent thinker.

Any advice for students or new grads? 

Discover your passion and follow it.

A guilty pleasure?

Strawberry shortcake.

What are you watching or reading these days?

Star Trek.

Why is mentorship important?

Everyone needs guidance at the beginning.

When you are not working, what do you do? 

Hiking, swimming, reading and watching Star Trek.

What are you reading these days?

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin.

Can you share one of your proudest aha! moments?

We didn’t have high expectations so, when my postdoc and I saw, through imaging, that astrocytes in the brain with dysfunctional cilia showed very disturbed morphology, we got very excited about this finding.

If someone were to act out your life (in a movie), who would star you?

Any young, good female actress who can act passionately about science would do.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you?

None I can think of. I don’t get annoyed by questions . . . in fact, I like curious people.

What is one thing that nobody knows about you?

How many root canals I have. 

With files from Avenue Magazine.

Meet the entire 2022 cohort of Top 40 Under 40 honourees at Avenue Magazine.