At the Crossroads of Art and Science: Interview with IMS Alumna Krystal Jacques

Article by Kateryna Maksyutynska

Graphic design by Vanessa Nguyen

Challenging. Fun. Nuanced.

These are the three words that Krystal Jacques, Institute of Medical Science (IMS) alumna, used to describe her graduate experience. Krystal successfully defended her thesis in December 2021 and graduated with a Master of Science degree. Her project explored the embryonic origin of the pancreatic stem cell—a question she studied under the supervision of Dr. Derek van der Kooy at the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular & Biomedical Research. Krystal sat down with the IMS Magazine to reflect on and share her journey through graduate school, while offering advice to incoming students who are considering pursuing a career in scientific research. 

Krystal’s journey involved personal discovery and growth which, just like science, was not always a linear process. Throughout the program, aspirations and inspirations transformed and were met with reinvention of goals and strategies to address these changes. 

Krystal Jacques
MSc Graduate, Institute of Medical Science
Photo Credit: Anthony D’elia

Prior to starting at IMS, Krystal’s innate interest in science allowed her to develop a strong scientific background and motivated her to consider medicine as a career; continuing her studies in graduate school was a big part of actualizing this goal. This career goal served as a strong source of motivation during the first two years of Krystal’s graduate work. This drive was reinforced by like-minded individuals that shared similar interests and support from others. Despite this external validation, Krystal continued to reflect on her academic and career path. She shared that although there were aspects of graduate school and her research that she liked, such as the flexible hours, the reward of mastering certain hands-on procedures, and interacting with her peers, Krystal did not enjoy academia as a whole and it often only left her feeling drained and unfulfilled. Through what Krystal described as a long and organic process of self-discovery, she realized that this was no longer what she was drawn to do. 

I went on a journey to understand—why did I make these choices? Is there something else I would rather be doing and spending all my time on?

Naturally, exploring alternative career paths was a part of this process as Krystal’s desire to pursue medicine wavered and her interest in a career in the arts grew. Krystal was always very passionate about the arts; however, it was considered a hobby and it was difficult to dedicate significant time and resources during her graduate degree. This changed when Krystal started to explore the possibility of engaging in this hobby as a full-time career.

When I thought of the possibility of becoming a full-time artist, my heart jumped.

Krystal realized that this was a field in which she could build a career and could picture herself pursuing—one that would fulfill her desire to express her creativity. However, coming to this realization, and then fully accepting it, was a challenge. It was difficult trying to rationalize such a drastic change mid-way through her studies. Krystal explained the struggle with the decision by alluding to the Sunk Cost Fallacy: since she had already invested so much time and energy into science and academia, she believed the most reward would be gained by continuing in the same path. This was not enough to prevent Krystal from considering all arguments and exploring new avenues. 

The introduction of photography to Krystal’s graduate journey was one of the many intersections of art and science in her life. Krystal joined the IMS Magazine as a journalist and photographer in the first year of her studies. Excited about her role as a photographer for the IMS Magazine, Krystal purchased her first DSLR camera and made a critical investment into a new interest that would change her life. By her second year, she expanded the scope of her involvement in the magazine and became the executive photographer, as well as an executive editor, for the team. She took on the role with great curiosity to learn and develop her skills despite having no previous experience with photography. 

Krystal shared that during her first photography assignment, she was fixated on all elements of the photo such as the setting, composition, and lighting. She recalled being so nervous that it took many tries to capture the shot. Over time, as photography became of greater interest, taking photos got easier and the process was optimized. While progressing with her photography, Krystal kept having recurring doubts about pursuing a PhD. To overcome this, Krystal persevered with her research work but sought opportunities to incorporate more art into her life and encouraged herself to make more time for this hobby. Eventually, through seeking more photography opportunities, Krystal understood that she wanted to be a full-time artist and photographer. 

Through her experiences, Krystal realized an important theme such that skills acquired in the arts and sciences are directly transferable and complementary. She noted many parallels between the two fields and credits her artistry to have contributed to a successful completion of her thesis work.

Innovation in science requires an artistic approach – it’s not cut and dry and requires you to think outside the box.

Creativity, which is a trait that is encouraged and developed in the arts, can also aid in designing experiments and problem solving. Similarly, resourcefulness and integration of ideas are necessary for achievements in both fields. Krystal’s unique journey which encompassed both domains allowed her to grow in both fields simultaneously. The intersection of these two fields is best showcased by Krystal’s photography work entitled, “When the heart jumps,” that captures the essence of research. 

When the heart jumps 
The scientist is both confused and excited about what he sees. He wonders, “But how am I gonna fit this in with the rest of my data?”

As a photographer who struggled to be sure of what I really loved to do, and then struggled to make the leap in that direction—this photo is also a token to carving out a life path that’s meaningful to you.

Photographer: Krystal Jacques, MSc
Assistants: Alan Canagasabey and Chris McCallan
Model: Kenneth Grisé, PhD

Krystal also highlighted memorable experiences and lessons learned from completing her thesis such as attending the 2019 International Society for Stem Cell Research conference in California. Presenting her work for the first time to an international audience emphasized the importance of communication and was reflective of the work she put in to develop her presentation skills over the years. Krystal stated that the ability to see growth and development in her skills often outweighed the final output of her work. The process of self-governing and recovering from failures, along with the energy required to persevere, is often overlooked and not captured in the final product. These are common student experiences that contributed to Krystal’s personal growth. 

As she reflects on a successful completion of her Master’s degree, Krystal encourages students considering pursuing research or medicine to take the time to understand whether the reasons stem from a personal choice or if they are shaped by expectations from external factors. She stresses that although exploring all interests and understanding all perspectives is an integral part of making such important decisions, the final decision must be yours, and often takes a lot of courage. 

Krystal has many aspirations for her career in the arts and is currently building her business and portfolio specializing in portraiture and wedding/engagement photography. She is also involved in science communication roles such as writing for the Signal’s blog and works to supplement science with media. One of her long-term goals is to expand to new art mediums, such as painting, and displaying her work in a gallery. 

From everyone at the IMS Magazine, we would like to thank Krystal for sharing her story and wish her all the best in her journey ahead!

To continue following Krystal’s journey, please visit:

Instagram: @krystaljacques