By Wendy Sarubbi | February 16, 2016 12:17 pm

Kai McKinstry – then a young graduate student – had just finished a job interview when a woman in the lab offered him a homemade Christmas cookie. He had been nervous all morning, but one look at her gentle smile and he forgot all about his nerves. He was smitten.

Little did McKinstry know it would take more than a year to convince the driven scientist, Tara Strutt, to give him a chance.

“Initially I thought she hated me,” McKinstry said about the first few rebuffs. “But then I realized she was just really dedicated to her research.”

They may not have been dating during the first two years they worked together in the lab, but they were spending a lot of hours together getting to know each other.

The Canadian natives have been married since 2006 and in September 2015 they joined the College of Medicine’s School of Biomedical Sciences. Each runs their independent laboratories, although they do collaborate on a few projects.

McKinstry is the extrovert, laughing easily and getting very animated when discussing his work with T-cells. His project may eventually lead to the development of a one-time vaccine for all flus.

Strutt is more reserved, but gets just as excited about her work. Her research focuses on a novel class of immune cells that fight viral respiratory tract infections. In her lab, she is developing methods to harness the power of these cells to create novel therapies against a range of pathogens.

Although seeing each other all the time might put some couples on edge, the common experience of long hours and dedication to cracking different medical mysteries has woven a tight bond between them. They both characterize their work as fun. They can’t imagine being with someone who didn’t understand the demands of a research scientist and academic.

Ever since graduate school at the University of Saskatchewan, they’ve been together. They moved to the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, N.Y., then the University of Massachusetts’ Medical School in Worcester, Mass., and now UCF. They are still unpacking and getting to know their new Central Florida community.

They said they came for the opportunity to have their own labs in an innovative and vibrant medical school.

When they are not trying to unravel the mysteries of immunology or teaching eager students, they are spending time with Leif, their Maltese. They both hope to get back into golfing – time permitting.

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