Remembering Laura Krajewski

Krajewski, a UTM graduate, loved nature and devoted her time to community service  

Remembering Laura Krajewski

Laura Krajewski, a recent UTM graduate who was set to begin her master’s degree at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, died in an accident while hiking near Etobicoke Creek on March 2. She was 24 years old.

Krajewski, who worked as a communications assistant at UTM’s Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre at the time, had recently graduated with an Honours Bachelor’s of Science in Biology in 2016. While pursuing her undergraduate degree, she was an avid environmental conservation volunteer.

Associate Professor Fiona Rawle spoke with The Varsity about the first time she met Krajewski. Rawle recalled how Krajewski approached her after attending her first lecture in BIO152, and how they got to know each other during her visits to office hours.

“She [had] this smile that’s very memorable,” said Rawle. She recalled how Krajewski had “an ability to make people feel at ease,” and how “supportive she was of everyone she interacted with,” such as students in her lab group.

For one of Rawle’s course assignments, Krajewski wanted to write a song about a scientific concept. Krajewski not only submitted lyrics, but also a recording of her playing a song she named “The Sound of Mitosis.” Rawle helped Krajewski publish the music, which appeared in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education in 2014.

“I remember often wishing that my kids would grow up to be like her,” said Rawle. “She’s really confident, but she’s also very caring and she is really good at making others feel comfortable. She wants to do really well, but in a really collaborative way, which is really, really quite unique. She was really good at lifting up those around her.”

Robin Haley-Gillin, Manager of Organizational Development & Volunteers at the Riverwood Conservancy, recalled Krajewski’s love of working outdoors and dedication to environmental conservation. The conservancy cares for the Riverwood region along the Credit River.

According to Haley-Gillin, Krajewski first became involved in the conservancy as a student in BIO400, an internship course at UTM.

Krajewski helped establish the conservancy’s GPS and GIS mapping systems, which the conservancy uses to track invasive species. She continued to volunteer at the conservancy after her internship ended, and taught children about outdoor science at Riverwood.

“Losing Laura means that the world has lost a wonderful person, an environmental champion, and a wonderful human being,” said Haley-Gillin. “There are no words to describe how we at the Riverwood Conservancy and how I myself personally feel her loss. And we are grieving along with her family, and we are just so, so sorry.”

Tess Kendrick, a close friend of Krajewski since elementary school, reflected on her relationship with Krajewski and the profound impact that she had on her life.

The two grew close since they met in third grade. They would walk home together from school every day, and talk about everything  — how their day had been, what issues they were grappling with, and their hopes for the future.

After graduating from high school, Krajewski went to UTM and Kendrick to UTSG. They maintained their friendship over the phone and through occasional meetups, often to explore nature trails. 

Kendrick had always been inspired by Krajewski’s commitment to growth.  

“She was always thinking, ‘How do I want to be the person I want to be? What do I need to do to make that happen?’ I feel like I could go on and on about how she positively influenced me.”

Kendrick also marveled at Krajewski’s ability to live in the present. “On our walks together…we would be in the middle of conversation and she would just stop walking,” she recalled. “She would tilt her head up to the sky, close her eyes, and just bask in the sun. She’d close her eyes and have a smile on her face.”

“I just have such a deep love for her, so it’s really hard to come to terms with this,” said Kendrick. “But I’m also so grateful to have had her in my life, and for her to have taught me the things she did.”

What does a scientist look like?

Seven U of T students discuss their passions and paths in science

What does a scientist look like?

W hat does a scientist look like? For many, the answer involves white lab coats, goggles, and beakers. Yet the people who pursue science are just as diverse as the field itself. Scientists can be activists, athletes, artists, or all of the above. Science can happen indoors or outdoors, under the night sky, or on the internet. Read about the journeys of seven student researchers at U of T.

ASHIMA KAURA/THE VARSITY

“As a little girl, I saw a shooting star, and that made the night sky my favourite view. I thought a lot about what was up there and how cool it would be to go to space. This led to my studying physics and astronomy in undergrad and I have never looked back since then.

I currently seek to understand the early universe and how it transitioned to the stars and galaxies we see today. Specifically, what happened in the [epoch] of re-ionization. The epoch of re-ionization is a period in the universe’s history over which the matter in the universe ionizes again.

[My dad] taught me always to strive for more, that there could always be a way if there is a will. He taught me to never give up and to always ask questions. My curiosity in life and career comes from him.”

— Margaret Ikape, first-year PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics, email

ASHIMA KAURA/THE VARSITY

 “I have always been interested in science, but also equally interested in the arts. I went to an arts middle school and high school where half my day was spent doing art and not academics. I spend a lot of my time outside of school engaging in the arts. I still consider myself an artist as much as I consider myself a scientist. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I can [be] both.

When I decided I wanted to go to university, I chose to study science since I liked it and was good at it. Moving into my later years of my undergrad I found that I was drawn to ecology courses, field courses, and also really liked the people I met in those classes.

I am interested in the pollutants, that comes from roads, such as road salt, and how it impacts the animals that live in nearby streams. I also study other pollutants that come from roads, such as metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and small bits of car tires (tire dust).”

— Rachel Giles, first-year Master’s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, email

“Initially I had my heart set on being a professional dancer and veterinarian (a very practical dual career). Science had been my academic focus for some time, but it took several years after completing my BSc for me to realize that I passionately loved research and applying the scientific method to various questions of animal behaviour and cognition. I had this epiphany while I was juggling three jobs as a lab manager, veterinary assistant, and dog trainer. Out of all of those, I found research to be fulfilling and exciting and it was something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.

I want to know how [dogs] perceive the world and how they process cues and information present in the environment. I am motivated by the hope that my research can possibly help change how people view dogs, give greater value to them through the recognition of their mental abilities and ultimately lead to greater wellbeing and better access rights in North America.”

— Julia Espinosa, second-year PhD in Cognitive Psychology, email

Julia Espinosa (left) and Madeline Pelgrim (right) work with dogs like Loki to determine animal behaviour. ASHIMA KAURA/THE VARSITY

“Julia Espinosa, the graduate student in my lab, has had the greatest influence on my career. She has been endlessly patient with me since we began working together in the fall of 2016, and has pushed me to advocate for myself and not be afraid to try something new. I would not be at this point in my career without her sage advice and constant confidence.

Like many other students, I had a bit of a rough transition into University in my first year. Adjusting to life away from home (my hometown is a 10 hour drive from Toronto) and everything that comes with living on your own for the first time caused my academics to suffer. When I first applied to join my lab, I was confident that I would not be accepted because of my marks. I am very thankful for my Principal Investigator — Dr. Buchsbaum — and the lab manager at the time — Kay Otsubo — for taking a chance on me and overlooking my performance first-year.”

— Madeline Pelgrim, fourth-year Bachelor’s in Psychology and Biology, email

ASHIMA KAURA/THE VARSITY

“There are definitely a lot of challenges throughout a PhD. I would say the biggest one for me were the mental challenges at the early stage of my PhD. How do I keep being confident in front of the language barrier, failure experiments, competitions, and where is my direction for the future? Having been through such a mental struggling stage, I am now clearer of myself, and ready for unknowns.

I always want to help bring positive impacts to our future world. I like the discovery and innovation side of research studies and its potential impact on our better world. My research is to design advanced photo-responsive nanomaterials that can store solar energy into chemical energy by catalyzing the conversion of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to useful chemicals and fuels. It is a promising solution to reduce the usage of fossil fuels and global warming caused by greenhouse gas.”

— Yuchan Dong, fifth-year PhD in Materials Chemistry, email

ASHIMA KAURA/THE VARSITY

“As a child while it was true that I was always curious about nature and the world around us — Asking questions like why is the sky blue? How are clouds formed? etc. It was only when I got older and started to understand ‘what is science? what are scientists? How is science performed?’ that I gained a tremendous passion for it.

This notion that with a few chemical reactions, chemists can ‘creatively’ and rationally generate a molecule which when administered to human can halt disease progression, pain and even extend life — was a very powerful catalyst for my interest in medicinal chemistry. My work mainly focuses on the development of novel small-molecules that specifically target disease-causing cellular components which have been shown to cause certain cancers.

I think as with any budding student of science, whether in graduate studies, professional programs or even out in the workforce, the biggest challenge is to become comfortable with and know how to effectively deal with failure and hardship. As a scientist, at times we learn more from failed experiments than successful ones.”

— Yasir S. Raouf, third-year PhD in Organic and Biological Chemistry, email

ASHIMA KAURA/THE VARSITY

“I’ve been both playing sports competitively and going to school since I was six years old. Honestly, if I didn’t play water polo I don’t know what I would be doing in the evenings — I think I would just be sitting on my phone doing nothing. I love to represent Canada, and it’s a really exciting opportunity to do so on an international stage. Looking forward to the future, it would be an honour to represent Canada at the Olympic Games. U of T has opened so many doors for me, with research and athletics.

Initially I came to U of T and I wanted to do Genetics and Cell & Systems Biology — all that nitty gritty stuff. Then I took BIO230, and I was like this is not for me. I was trying to figure out a field where I could apply Life Science techniques, but without wet lab stuff. I had the opportunity to do an ROP [Research Opportunity Program] in Pascal Tyrrell’s lab — which is focused on medical imaging and statistics — and just fell in love with it.”

— Rachael Jaffe, third-year Bachelor’s in Global Health, Statistics, and Economics, spoken