Contributor: Nina Amelie Lazaro
As an undergraduate student it can be tough to figure out the path you want to take. Sure, there’s medicine, dentistry, and even pharmacology, but oftentimes we forget about the multitude of other professions that we can pursue. This week, I sat down with Christy Wilson, a BMSc graduate, who has explored various aspects of medical sciences and is now a successful epidemiologist working for the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Christy Wilson began her undergraduate journey in Brescia’s Nutrition program. During her first year of the program, she was required to take a half credit course in biology and microorganisms piquing her interests. While she enjoyed her nutrition courses, Christy found herself wanting to learn more about the food borne pathogens and disease pathogenesis were briefly explored in that first year course. She also recalled how much she enjoyed her final immunology project in her last year of high school biology and eventually decided that the Microbiology and Immunology program at Western’s main campus was a better fit for her interests.
Christy graduated with a Bachelor’s in Medical Sciences from the Microbiology and Immunology Honours Specialization program with a Minor in Medical Cell Biology. She explains that while the MicroImm program best fit her interests, she was also drawn to the tremendous research network and vast array of opportunities available at Western. Notably, Christy had the opportunity to work in a microbiology lab doing research in the summer before her final year of undergrad. This experience eventually evolved into her thesis project and a research assistant job which she held for about a year after graduating.
However, while she enjoyed her time in the lab and learned a variety of useful skills, Christy didn’t see this as a future career path. She decided to take a bit of a break before committing to any further education and found herself working as an intern for the World Health Organization (WHO). Christy found this break to be especially beneficial to her in order to truly refine her interests and motivate her to pursue something she was really passionate about. To any undergraduate currently thinking of pursuing a Master’s degree, Christy stresses the value of taking some time off to really explore your interests and gain some more real world experience to help you approach your graduate studies with clear intention. Christy herself ultimately decided to pursue her Master’s of Public Health in Epidemiology from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
The Master’s program was a combination of classes and co-op terms where she states, she “had the opportunity to learn those foundations of epidemiology in classes, and then actually go out into the real world and apply those skills.” During her time at Dalla Lana, she completed two practicums; one of which was at Sanofi Pasteur, a well-established pharmaceutical company, and the other at the Public Health Agency of Canada, where she currently works as an epidemiologist.
Her current role at the Public Health Agency focuses on vector-borne disease surveillance. Diseases such as those transmitted by mosquitoes, like the West Nile virus, or by ticks, like Lyme disease are her main areas of research. She spends the majority of her time acquiring data and cleaning data, maintaining databases, doing data analysis, and reporting various results and trends. Additionally, she attends team meetings where she gives and receives updates on projects and data collections. While Christy doesn’t know what her next step will be, she has found her work at the Public Health Agency to be quite fulfilling and hopes to continue working in infectious disease surveillance.
Overall, Christy looks back on her time of Western very fondly and is grateful for the strong science background provided in her undergraduate program. This knowledge helped her as she learned about new diseases and pathogens, both throughout her Master’s degree, and even in her current job. While she learns and explores new diseases and pathogens that she is unfamiliar with, her background from her BMSc provides a framework that helps her understand how to best approach the disease at hand.
Christy came into university never heard of epidemiology before and hoping to earn a degree in nutrition. As she worked towards earning her BMSc, she learned more about her interests and further explored the multitude of courses and opportunities Western had to offer. She is grateful for the opportunities she has experienced and the many skills and life lessons she has learned from them.
As some last words of wisdom, Christy advises students to really study what interests them. While interests can vary from the typical science undergraduate background, finding something you are genuinely passionate about will be the best way to be successful. She also stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with people that help you grow and learn. Seek out various volunteer positions, internships, and experiences that help you broaden your skills and ultimately make you a more well-rounded individual.
Christy’s journey through undergraduate school, graduate school, research positions, internships, and finally to the Public Health Agency of Canada really demonstrates that not everyone’s path is as straightforward as it seems. It’s important to stay flexible, keep an open mind, and always be open to growth and improvement.
Special thanks to Christy Wilson for sharing her experiences!