Spotlight on: WCHRI postdoctoral fellow Amy Wooldridge in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

Amy WooldridgeWCHRI postdoctoral fellow Amy Wooldridge originally set out to become a veterinarian.

The native-born Australian studied animal science at the University of Adelaide. While she loved the science, the experiences of her veterinarian student housemates gave her second thoughts.

After finishing her Honours year at an agricultural campus, she moved to the University of Adelaide’s medical school where she did her PhD. It was there that she fell in love with studying pregnancy complications.

“Agricultural production asked similar questions to those that my research at the medical school was asking... how do we improve pregnancy and long-term offspring outcomes? This area is personal to me because my mother was over 40 when she had my brothers and me with preeclampsia affecting each of those pregnancies,” she explains.

An avid scuba diver and sea kayaker, she completed a two-year postdoctoral program at the University of Western Australia and worked as a research assistant before deciding to move to the University of Alberta.

“When I moved to Canada, I had three bags with me. One of those bags was mostly full of diving gear. I was very optimistic,” laughs Wooldridge. “I knew about the snow. I knew about poutine. But how cold winter gets was a bit of a shock.”

Thinking strategically about her weaknesses, the skills she wanted to acquire and the research questions she wanted to answer led her to her current work with supervisors Sandy Davidge and Christy-Lynn Cooke. The principal investigator of her lab, WCHRI Executive Director Sandy Davidge, also has an animal science background, and her other supervisor, Christy-Lynn Cooke, is a clinician at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women.

“I get two perspectives,” says Wooldridge. “One of my mentors shares my background and the other is actively involved in the clinical treatment of complicated pregnancies. Our lab collaborates very widely, including with industry. There's a lot of training and mentoring here, which is exactly what I wanted to prioritize.”

Wooldridge is currently studying the long term effects of fetal hypoxia (when the fetus is deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen) on pregnancy outcomes in women over 35. In the lab, she often uses two microscopes at once while micro dissecting tiny vessels from tissue samples and testing how they react to simulated blood pressures.

“The rest of my time is spent reading papers, entering and analyzing data, and discussing that data and its implications with other researchers which is one of the most important tasks.”

Wooldridge advises that it’s important for aspiring researchers to think strategically about their career path. “Take time to identify your weaknesses. What do you need to prioritize to get to where you want to be?” 

“Look at other researchers’ resumes and identify opportunities that you might miss, such as awards and funding opportunities. Learn how to write an academic curriculum vitae early. Record everything you work on, every event you attend. Visit other labs, even ones in your own department. Observe how they work. By looking at a range of different ways to do things, you can better choose what works best for you.”

For her time in Canada, Wooldridge has lofty ambitions both inside and outside the lab.

 “I want to see all of the beautiful scenery that Canada has to offer—this country is ridiculously photogenic. As someone who grew up watching kangaroos standing on dusty plains eating dry grass, I still take photos of almost every squirrel I see.”

“For my postdoctoral fellowship, I want to gain the skills and knowledge I need to make the biggest contributions I can to perinatal health. And to pick a niche to devote my career to along the way.”

Wooldridge’s fellowship has been funded by the generosity of the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation and supporters of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women through the Women and Children's Health Research Institute.

Additional support was also provided by the William & Florence Lede Family Foundation.