Furry friends forwarding science

by Katarina Mandic, M.Sc. Chemistry candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University

In 1998, author Roy Blount Jr. wrote a short piece comparing dogs to cats, clearly demonstrating his preference for canines:

“A dog will make eye contact. A cat will, too, but a cat’s eyes don’t even look entirely warm-blooded to me, whereas a dog’s eyes look human except less guarded. A dog will look at you as if to say, ‘What do you want me to do for you? I’ll do anything for you.’ Whether a dog can in fact, do anything for you if you don’t have sheep [I never have] is another matter. The dog is willing.”

When I read this excerpt, it inspired me to write about how the loving, empathetic and attentive nature of my own dog has helped me get through the hardships and setbacks associated with the process of completing my graduate degree.

In the winter of last year, I started bringing my service dog Aska, a Shepherd-Bullmastiff mix, with me to school every day. I set up a little area beside my desk in the graduate student office for her, so that she could sleep, eat and play while I ran experiments in the lab. Whenever I had some downtime between or during experiments, I would go back to my desk to work on my thesis, mark lab notebooks or have lunch, all with Aska by my side.

In the event I have a bad day, Aska comforts me in the only way she knows how – the canine way. She senses when I’m feeling down or feeling frustrated and makes those negative feelings go away by reminding me that no matter which setback I encounter, she will be there to do all that she can for me. She helps me realize that those feelings are only temporary and that I always have a reason to keep pushing forward, even though the solution to my problem is not yet obvious.

Many of the other graduate students and researchers in the science research building agree that Aska’s presence boosts office morale and allows for a brief break in our busy, science-heavy days (and nights) in lab.

Although not everyone has the privilege of enjoying the company of a dog during lab time, the biggest takeaway from this blog post would be to remember to take a break in order to keep producing high-quality data. It is so easy to focus too heavily on results and forget about your well-being, which is necessary to maintain in order to keep moving your project forward. My advice would be to research your university websites to see if your institutions like Wilfrid Laurier University have implemented a program that gives students the opportunity to spend time with dogs or cats to relieve exam stress.

When it comes to Roy Blount Jr’s statement about dogs, I can safely say that a dog can do a whole lot for you, despite never having owned sheep. To those of you who prefer cats over dogs, never underestimate how much a simple sniffing, nuzzling or licking can do when in a rut, whether that be in the field of science or otherwise.

Katarina Mandic is an M.Sc. Chemistry candidate supervised by Dr. Michael Suits at Wilfrid Laurier University. Katarina will be starting a Mitacs Accelerate Internship in January 2019, with the help of GlycoNet and industry partner, Mirexus.

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