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I AM KITE Profile: Julia Rybkina

Monthly features to profile the next generation of rehab researchers

When Institute Director Dr. Milos R. Popovic introduced the KITE Research Institute to the world two years ago, he had one goal – to redefine and broaden the rehab-specific perception of our work. 

The I AM KITE campaign, launched in January, pays tribute to the diverse up-and-coming talent at KITE who are making a huge impact in the world of rehab science. 

Today we introduce Julia Rybkina, a member of our Brain Discovery & Recovery team. Her passion for helping people with neurological disorders sets her up for success with developing patient-driven solutions as a future clinician and researcher. 

I AM JULIA RYBKINA
ABOUT JULIA

NAME: Julia Rybkina
EDUCATION: MSc in Rehabilitation Science and BSc in Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Toronto
KITE TEAM: Brain Discovery & Recovery
RESEARCH FOCUS: Rehab for neurological disorders

PROFILE
Julia currently has two roles at the KITE Research Institute. She is finishing her Master of Science (MSc) degree at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Robin Green. She is also working as a patient-research liaison for Central Recruitment at Toronto Rehab Institute under Dr. Cathy Craven.

Julia’s MSc project studies the feasibility and efficacy of a spatial navigation intervention for people living with neurological disorders like Multiple Sclerosis and traumatic brain injury. It aims to improve memory and offset atrophy of the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved with memory, learning and navigation. This project addresses the issues of cost-effectiveness and accessibility in healthcare. The intervention is self-administered online so it requires no supervision and can be completed from anywhere. To conduct this research, Julia has been awarded several recognitions such as the Canada Graduate Scholarships – Master’s (CGS-M CIHR) scholarship (2019-2020), Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Student Scholarship (OSOTF and Endowed Awards 2019), Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Focus on Accessibility Award (2020), and the Branch Out Neurological Foundation IMPACT Grant (2021). 

As a patient-research liaison, Julia is responsible for making sure every patient admitted to the Musculoskeletal, Geriatric Rehabilitation, and Specialized Dementia units at TRI is considered for research. She serves as a bridge between patients and scientists, explaining to patients the role of research participants while helping to recruit them for the scientists. 

Julia is from Moscow, Russia and moved to Toronto when she was 10 years old. She studied neuroscience and psychology during her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. She was the Vice President of her department’s graduate student unit and is currently a founder and co-producer of the RehabINK podcast.

TREATING AND RESEARCHING NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS
In the next five to 15 years, Julia aims to become a clinician so she can help people with neurological disorders. She also wants to continue her research into novel, accessible and cost-effective treatments for them. Julia hopes to work with clinicians, scientists, patients and community members to accelerate the speed at which research is integrated into clinical care to improve patient outcomes.

For many people Julia works with, their life doesn't return to normal, but if her research could change one thing by tomorrow, she'd give people hope. Hope that more effective and accessible treatments will be available in the near future, that patients will find a new normal, and that life will be just as fulfilling as before.

WHY KITE?
Julia wanted to work at KITE because of “knowledge translation efforts and how multidisciplinary the Institute is,” she says. “I always felt drawn and inspired to pursue research that has direct and meaningful applications to people's daily life and I found it fascinating how many collaborators and industry partners scientists at KITE had, aiding in efficient knowledge translation.” Julia also appreciates how easy it was to find clinician-scientist role models for herself as she took next steps to develop her career.

“I love both the patient-facing side of my job and also the desk-facing work I do with my colleagues and teammates,” Julia says. She loves the opportunity to speak directly with patients living with neurological disorders. “As part of my master’s degree I conducted in-person interviews to gain insight into participants' experience with the intervention and it was one of the greatest highlights of my graduate experience,” Julia says. Another reason she loves her job is “the inclusive, supportive environment both Dr. Green and Dr. Craven have established within their teams.” Julia notes they have prioritized the safety and mental health of their teams while encouraging her academically and professionally. “Virtual weekly socials such as celebrations of special occasions, cooking together, or playing online games like Jeopardy have really bonded us as teammates and reduced the isolation of social distancing," Julia says.

JULIA AND I AM KITE
"The I AM KITE video reminds me that we, as an institute, are united in our pursuit to study the science of rehabilitation hands-on and to help improve people's functioning and recovery after illnesses or injuries with advanced, world-class technology, talent, innovation and scientific rigour,” she says.

In her spare time, Julia loves being outdoors and jogging, swimming and hiking. She also loves cooking new recipes she sees on TikTok and painting. Julia is a fan of podcasts, listening to a variety of history, true crime, comedy and mainstream entertainment ones.