Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX biology master’s graduate earns numerous honours for academic accomplishments

May 17th, 2019
Alex Young

While graduation day is always special, Alex Young, a 2019 MSc biology graduate from Berwick, NS, had extra reason to proud. During StFX’s 2019 Spring Convocation, Mr. Young was recognized with the Governor General Graduate Medal for the highest overall average in a thesis-based graduate program as well as the Outstanding Graduate Research Award for the highest-ranked graduate thesis.

“It feels amazing to be recognized for my research. I had no expectations to receive any awards, especially considering how great the rest of my cohort was, so I am very grateful,” Mr. Young says.

“One of the biggest factors in my success was the support I had from my supervisor, (StFX biology professor) Dr. Russell Wyeth, as well as our collaborator Dr. Daniel Jackson in Germany who I was fortunate to go work with in person in 2018. I also had a lot of backing from the other members of the Wyeth Lab, and my friends and family.”

Mr. Young says his time at StFX set up him well for success.

“Everyone says this, but one of the things that sets StFX apart from other universities is how small and tight-knit the community is. I'm going to miss all of the members of the biology department, but I know that the connections and friendships I have made here will last a lifetime.”

At StFX, Mr. Young’s research focused on the nervous system of snails, identifying the genes and cells responsible for producing different neurotransmitters Those neurotransmitters are key to the functioning of all nervous systems, as they allow neurons (cells of the nervous system) to communicate with each other.

In addition to working at StFX for just over two years, he travelled in 2018 to Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, Germany, to spend over two months working in the lab of Dr. Jackson, conducting research as the recipient of a Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). This extra funding added to the other scholarships Mr. Young received to support his master’s program, including a $17,500 NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master’s award and a Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship.

Mr. Young says he has always had a research interest in genetics, the nervous system, and how different health products may work (or fail) to improve our health.

“In my research at StFX, I learned a lot about genetics and the nervous system by studying snails. I am now excited to apply what I have learned to my research in the cannabinoid field where I hope to identify cannabinoids that may be able to improve human brain health.”  

Mr. Young will pursue this new angle as part of his doctorate at Dalhousie University.

He says his PhD research will explore how the interplay between cannabinoid receptors and different cannabinoids can be exploited to improve many aspects of health, particularly in patients that suffer with neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington's disease.

“I am very excited to begin this work in the lab of Dr. Eileen Denovan-Wright in September.”

Dr. Wyeth says Mr. Young’s pattern of success as a young academic continues—he so far has received a $15,000 Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship to start his PhD, and is waiting to hear on more potential scholarships. Dr. Wyeth says this is hardly surprising. “Alex’s record speaks for itself. He is a remarkably talented molecular biologist and an excellent young scholar. I gave him some help here and there along the way, but his success is definitely his own. It’s always tough to have great students move on, but at the same time I’m excited to see what more successes his future holds.”


This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.


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