Dr. Ada Tang is a physical therapist, an Associate Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University, and a Clinician-Scientist with the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation. Ada completed her BSc in Physical Therapy, MSc in Rehabilitation Science, and PhD in Medical Science from the University of Toronto. Afterwards, she was awarded a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Fellowship and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of British Columbia before joining the faculty at McMaster University. In our interview, Ada shares more about her life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:09)
Sport and exercise have always been important in Ada’s life. In addition to studying exercise in the lab, Ada loves being active outdoors. She spends her free time hiking, enjoying nature, and traveling. Ada is also an avid sports fan, and she enjoys watching sporting events, particularly Toronto Raptors basketball games.
The Scientific Side (3:39)
We know that exercise is an important part of healthy living for everyone, but it can be more difficult for people with stroke to exercise as a result of mobility problems and other factors. Unfortunately, exercise is typically not a strong focus in stroke rehabilitation. Ada and her research team are assessing the impacts of exercise on the cardiovascular health of people with stroke, as well as other populations, and they are working to develop safe and effective exercise programs for people with stroke.
A Dose of Motivation (5:03)
Whenever we train, we’re putting money in the bank, and then we cash it out when we need it. The more you are inactive, the more your bank account becomes depleted, and you have less available in reserve. This idea helps motivate Ada to stay active and inspires her research.
What Got You Hooked on Science? (8:33)
Learning about the bones, muscles, and different biological systems within the body during an anatomy class really piqued Ada’s interest in science. She took this class during her senior year of high school, and as a result, she decided to pursue a career in physical therapy. After her physical therapy training, Ada began working as a physical therapist in a teaching hospital. She really enjoyed working with patients and teaching physical therapy students. A passion for teaching led Ada to consider going to graduate school to get a master’s degree. After eight years in her position, Ada took a leave of absence from her job in clinical care and enrolled in graduate school. The transition was seamless because she completed her master’s degree in a lab within the hospital where she had been working. Ada planned to return to her clinical position after finishing her degree, but a fateful conversation with her supervisor about potentially getting a PhD changed everything. Ada realized that she really enjoyed research, and even if she returned to her clinical position, she would still want to be involved in research. This tipped the scales for her, and she decided to pursue a PhD and a career in clinical research.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (18:34)
One of the biggest challenges for Ada and so many others lately has been the ongoing global pandemic. The novel coronavirus has had an enormous impact on clinical research and scientists. For example, clinical studies have been suspended, there are fewer interactions with colleagues as a result of conferences and other in-person gatherings being cancelled or postponed, and opportunities for grant funding they have been counting on have been cancelled. Remaining in isolation has been particularly tough for Ada’s close-knit lab group since they no longer have their normal day-to-day interactions. Further, a few of the master’s degree students in the lab planned to defend their theses this fall. With all of their studies suspended, they have had to make major changes to the students’ projects. Through it all, Ada and her students have been tremendously resilient. They have transitioned their lab meetings, journal clubs, advisor meetings, and other interactions to virtual format. They have even been getting together for virtual lab lunches to maintain the collaboration and sense of research community.
A Shining Success! (22:57)
Earlier this year, the very first PhD student from Ada’s lab successfully defended his thesis. Mentorship has been such an important part of Ada’s own training, so it was so exciting to see her student reach this major milestone and to appreciate all of the hard work that went into it. At their university, there is a campus pub called The Phoenix. After a successful thesis defense, it is a tradition for everyone to go to the pub for drinks. The Phoenix has even started a tradition where there is a particular chalice that they use to serve drinks to new PhDs, as well as a book they can sign to commemorate the occasion.
Book Recommendations (24:44)
Letters to My Grandchildren by David Suzuki
Most Treasured Travel (27:40)
One of the most memorable scientific conferences Ada has attended was the World Neurorehab Conference in Melbourne a few years ago. There are phenomenal scientists doing outstanding stroke research in Australia that Ada got to meet while she was there. In addition, Melbourne is a beautiful city, and she enjoyed traveling around Australia afterwards, driving on the Great Ocean Road, and diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
Ada has also had wonderful experiences teaching physical therapy students in Canada and overseas. For example, she has had opportunities to work with physical therapy programs in Kosovo to teach neurorehabilitation and also in Ethiopia to teach spinal cord rehabilitation. It was remarkable to see how the physical therapists operate in these under-resourced settings, and Ada was impressed by their dedication and creativity. These were incredible learning experiences for her as well as for the students there.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (32:04)
When she was a master’s student, Ada was in the lab late one Friday evening wrapping up some work before heading out for the weekend. Everyone else had left already, so she was all alone. Out of the corner of her eye, Ada saw something scurry across the floor. She did not stay to investigate what it was. After quickly shutting down her computer, Ada grabbed her stuff, and she was out the door. On her way home, she sent a text to a fellow lab member to tell her what happened. The first thing her colleague asked was whether Ada had notified facility staff about the creature in the lab. She had not. On Monday morning, Ada’s colleague got to the lab first. She slowly opened the door and looked around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She cautiously walked further into the lab, and she still didn’t see anything. When she reached her desk, she pulled out her chair to sit down, and she saw the mouse. Unfortunately, it had passed away under her desk over the weekend, and Ada was in trouble when she arrived later.
Advice For Us All (36:04)
Research participants are incredibly valuable for clinical research. As a clinical researcher, you can work hard, write papers, and get grants, but without research participants, you can’t make progress. Make sure to appreciate research participants and the contributions they make to science. Also, be open to opportunities. Careers in science are wonderful. Even if an opportunity isn’t exactly what you are looking for, it can still lead to great things.
Ada and the MacStroke Canada research group examine the impact of exercise on cardiovascular health in people with stroke and other populations. Limited mobility following stroke can contribute to physical inactivity and sedentary behaviors, leading to higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Exercise and physical activity can help improve many cardiovascular risk factors and may be an effective strategy for primary and secondary prevention for stroke and other health conditions. Exercise is an important part of Ada’s life outside of the lab too. You can usually find her in the forest on a trail, up a mountain, or on the water.