As part of our Spring Convocation 2023 coverage, we asked graduates from our six Schools to share their experiences of completing a degree in McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. Here, we meet Class of 2023 member Caitlin Fierheller from the School of Biomedical Sciences. Caitlin completed her PhD in Human Genetics degree. Congratulations Caitlin! 

Name: Caitlin Fierheller 

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy in Human Genetics  

Hometown: Lindsay, Ontario 


What did you love most about studying at McGill and in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences?  

McGill provides an amazing framework for teaching, learning and growth. I cherish the experience I gained at McGill through all the activities I was able to participate in because of and outside my research. 


Was there a particularly proud moment during your time at McGill? 

One of the proudest moments I had during my PhD was when my first author paper was published. I was so happy to finally share what I, and my colleagues, had been working on with the scientific community, my friends, and family!  


What was your dissertation about? 

Ovarian cancer and identifying new genes that may increase risk of this cancer. I identified a candidate new gene, called FANCI, that likely increases risk of ovarian cancer. My thesis included two first author publications in Genome Medicine and Genes 


What is the societal impact of your research topic? 

If validated in further studies, and if the risk is high enough, individuals who are carriers of genetic alterations in FANCI could be offered risk reducing strategies to significantly decrease their risk of ovarian cancer. It is also possible individuals with ovarian cancer who have genetic alterations in FANCI could be offered targeted therapies for their cancer. 


If you could change one thing in the world to make it better, what would you choose? 

I would prevent cancer in as many people as possible. An individual who is identified to have a high cancer risk after being diagnosed with cancer is a failure of cancer prevention.  


Any shoutouts? 

Prof. Patricia Tonin, Dr. Wejdan Alenezi and Corinne Serruya: the best McGill support system I could have asked for during my PhD! 


Top tip for incoming students in your program?  

Make time to do the things you love. You are so much more than just the work you do.  


Anything you’ll miss? 

I will miss Montreal dearly. It is such a wonderful city that I was happy to call home for six years.  


What’s next for you?  

I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow at Queen Mary University in London, England. I am working in the Women’s Precision Prevention team led by Prof. Ranjit Manchanda. The core pillars of the team are detection and prevention. If we can detect cancers earlier, then we may give people a better chance of survival. And if we can identify individuals at high risk for certain cancers, we can offer them prevention strategies to decrease their cancer risk.