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BMSA Podcast: Hon. Spec. Biochemistry + Cancer Biology/Infection & Immunity

Interviewer: Ananya

Interviewee: Cathy, Colette

Ananya: Hello and welcome to the ITR session with BMSA, where we interview senior students in the Medical Sciences program to give a better background for your Intent to Register choices. My name is Ananya and today we are joined by Colette and Cathy, who are going to share information that they have about their modules! So, please tell us a little bit about yourselves. Cathy, would you like to go first?

Cathy: So, hello everyone! My name is Cathy and I am doing my module in Biochemistry and Cancer Biology. I’m a third-year and I am also currently doing some tRNA research.

Colette: So hello, I’m Colette and I’m also in my third year, but I’m doing Biochemistry of Infection and Immunity and I have actually been doing research since I was 13 and that’s really where I built my passion for research and kind of my desire to pursue it moving forward and kind of since then, I’ve done research in a couple different areas, so I’ve been able to, kind of, expose myself to a lot of different areas of research, find what I like and what I don’t like, and so it’s been a really cool experience.

Ananya: Thank you, would you like to tell us a little bit about your module—what do you love about it, your overall experience in third-year compared to your second year?

Cathy: Yeah, for sure, so the main reason chose the Biochemistry and Cancer Biology module was because it was such an interdisciplinary view of studying biochemistry with all of the interplays. You could take biology, pharmacology, immunology, while still maintaining a very strong focus on biochemistry and one thing that I definitely enjoyed about it in third-year as opposed to first and second year was the fact that there was such a strong motivation to look at more application-based, problem-solving-based types of questions, and you get to look at a bunch of different assignments, and you actually get to apply some of the content you learn and it’s not solely based on exams. But yeah, I really enjoyed the critical thinking aspect of my module, um, yeah!

Colette: So I guess in terms of the biochemistry of infection and immunity, I really enjoyed just learning about the complexity of the immune system, it really fascinates me, and this whole kind of idea of how pathogens interact with it, and on a broader scale, how bacteria and viruses function in general, and their different methods of evading the immune system in terms of those that are pathogenic. And so, that is really what drove me to incorporate microimm with my module choice, and that all stemmed from that I really really loved that 2500 microimm course. And even though the third-year courses are run a little bit differently than that second-year course, I found all of the materials very interesting so far, and especially with this pandemic, we are seeing how highly relevant that field is, and that’s where these microimm courses really focus on the facts, and really learning and understanding it works, whereas the biochemistry courses, as Cathy kind of mentioned, focus more on research, how to kind of complete a project, how to apply your knowledge when looking at data, and then draw these conclusions from it. And so, I was able to develop all these skills from having a mix of these two courses in that I didn’t have all memorization or I didn’t have all application, and so I had a bit of both, and I think that kind of has helped me to be a more well-rounded critical thinker and researcher and even for students going into medicine, I can see how it helped in the fact that you are going to be wanting to apply all this research into your own practice, but you’re also going to need to know the facts, and so I can see being highly beneficial as well. And I guess kind of how second year differs from third year in that I found that you are building a lot more independence in your learning, especially, in those biochemistry courses, in that there is more of these assignments and group projects that allow you to go after the topics you’re more interested in, and when it comes down to it, you get out of it what you put into it. So if you’re the one who goes out of your way to be doing all the different analyzing for the project and running the simulations, you’re going to get out of it a lot, and that’s where I thought that at the end of it, I’d actually learned something that I could use in the future, and I was also really proud of what I had produced and it was something that I could be proud of in the end, versus, you know, I wrote a final and it’s done with, but kind of handing in that final project, I was really proud of what had come of it, and then I would also say, with the modules, if you are able to do a thesis, I would really, highly recommend it. I have yet to do my thesis, but I know completing, kind of, research, in both high school, but also in the last few years, in university, it is a really rewarding experience, and I’ve been able to try a lot of different fields, and some of them, I’ve really enjoyed, and some of them, not so much, and that’s where you really have to try it to know, and that’s where even if you don’t have a lot of research background, that’s completely unnecessary. The lab that I’m thinking of for my thesis next year is somewhere I have never researched in before (laughs), and not a lot of, kind of, transferable knowledge, and so that’s where it’ll be just as new for me, and so it’s something kind of fun to try and it may push you in a way, and kind of, it might be a surprise to find out you really like it, or maybe it will also show you, maybe it’s something you don’t enjoy as much, but it can be a really good way to kind of push yourself and try a different skill.

Ananya: Thank you! So, what was something about your module that, um, drew you in and made you choose it?

Cathy: I think, for my module, it was definitely sort of the more interdisciplinary aspect of it, simply because you do get the opportunity to study things like pathology, pharmacology, and immunology, in addition to all the mandatory biochem courses, and I think getting such a holistic view of all the sort of different disciplines that make up science, is kind of rare within a module. Oftentimes, you find them to be either hyper-focused in microimm or hyper-focused in pharmacology, which is great for some people, but I know for me, I really value that sort of interdisciplinary approach, and it’s very interesting to see how relevant pathology would be to something in biochemistry, or how immunology ties in under this entire branch of cancer, and how we can sort of merge of these fields together when looking at cancer research and studying in this field, and just going off of what Colette was saying before with research, again this is another module where you do have this option to do an honours thesis, and it is something I would highly recommend to everyone. I haven’t done mine yet, but I have been involved with a lot over these last two years and it’s just such an amazing experience to integrate what you are learning in the classroom into an actual application, and you don’t just feel like you’re just learning for the sake of it. It’s really interesting to see the real-life applications that these can have in the lab, and how they can really transform into research that can eventually help in terms of treating human disease and have real-world applications. It’s not just you learning from a textbook for the sake of it and I think that’s what makes it so much more fun than simply taking those multiple choices exams just for getting the marks, it really gets you involved with the content.

Colette: Yeah, no, I actually really agree with all what you said, kind of in regards to research, that’s why I love it, in that I’ve never been a person that likes to just memorize out of a book, but opening kind of a paper and seeing how they figured stuff out, that is kind of what it gets me excited, and kind of that problem-solving side of it, and that’s where going into kind of choosing my module, I was really lost because I’d done cancer research but I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in cancer research. I found it interesting but I didn’t know if it was kind of my end goal, so I was like, “Should I do the cancer module? Should I not? Or should I kind of, I had started this microimm class and was loving it, but at the same time, I didn’t know if all I wanted to study was micro, because I also have this really big passion for genetics, and kind of, gene regulation. And so that’s where, kind of, when it came down to it, I sat down, and I looked at all the modules I was considering, and that I kind of knew I had interest in, in some sort of way, whether it was pathology, because of disease, or cell bio, just because, I kind of liked developmental biology, and I wrote down each of the courses I would take in those different modules, and I read the descriptions and I was like, “Okay, which of these are the most interesting to you? Which are the ones you are going to enjoy? And that’s where at the end of the day, (laughs) I chose the module with the courses that I thought I would enjoy the most, and also provided me with space in my schedule to take other courses I really wanted to take from other modules, and also since I’m interested in genetics, some of the genetics courses in the biology department. So then, I was able to fit those courses in, and also, kind of, do my module with most of the courses that I would enjoy. I would highly recommend doing that as well, because, at the end of the day, the module itself is the name, but it’s really the courses that are what you going to be learning from, so, if maybe, if the name isn’t the perfect name you want, you can always take courses from other modules as your electives, and then add onto your module that way.

Cathy: Yeah absolutely, and just to add on a little bit to that, I think that’s a great way to sort of make up your mind about a module, I know, again, for me, it was very difficult to choose just one (laughs). And so that’s why I aimed for this more, like, you can have more diversity in your courses, but at the same time, you can also choose a more specialized module and take the types of courses that really interest you, even if they lie outside the module you are choosing. So don’t ever feel limited by your module, per se. That’s one thing I wish I had taken more time to invest into, just taking a look at absolutely all the courses I could potentially be taking, and finding a module that truly encompasses all of them. It’s very difficult to find just one, so that’s a good alternative, just picking a module, but also knowing that you have the opportunity to take courses outside of it.

Ananya: I think that’s great advice because we feel like sometimes we may be locked in to something we don’t like, but something in biochemistry, there’s so many options, we’re all in biochemistry taking some of the same courses, but then we all have our different portions of courses we’re also allowed to take. So, is there anything you wish you knew before choosing your module?

Cathy: I would have to say, due to the more application-problem-solving-critical-thinking components of the biochemical courses, with that, there comes a lot of assignments, a lot of group work, and sort of, figuring out how to manage that in terms of managing your time to be able to complete everything and also learning how to work with a group, sometimes it can pose a challenge, whereas some of the other modules are more lecture-based and you generally do exams to get most of your marks, so a little bit less assignment-focused, so I would say, you definitely need to be very strong at time management and allocating time towards each of those assignments, and also deciding how much time is appropriate for each assignment. There’s different weighings for them and you could really go on forever trying to perfect what you’re handing in, and it’s like a never-ending cycle. There’s always one little thing you can change, or add to, to make it better, but you also have to decide when is the right time to stop and be like, “It’s okay, it’s ready to hand in.” There’s only so much you can add to make it that much better given the limited time and the amount of courses and the course load that you often have to take with a biochem module because we often have to take courses in addition to the biochem courses—we also have to take courses that either align with microimm or pathology or cell bio or cancer, so we do sometimes tend to have a little bit of a heavier course load than maybe some of the more specialized modules, so to speak.

Colette: I would also agree with that, I really have no regrets in choosing my module—yes, it was a much heavier workload than I know some of my friends had in different modules, but I also, again, found it very rewarding, but I also, knowing that, maybe would’ve changed how I scheduled my extracurriculars, and doing that kind of thing. So I definitely could’ve changed that and also making those decisions throughout the semester of how I was going to be studying for my different courses. A lot of my study habits did have to change, in that I just couldn’t invest that same amount of time into these assignments, that, at the end of the day, were worth a very small percentage, and so, I had to figure out that balance of what is the time allocation, so I would definitely say that, if you’re entering that, be really aware of that. At the beginning of the semester, I was investing all of this unneeded time, and so it was something that I learned a little bit later on, and so that’s where I just recommend doing that. And then also, in the sense of when I choosing, again I knew I wanted to take these other courses in genetics, and I was looking into potentially taking pathology and [inaudible] in my module, and that’s where microimm with biochemistry has a lot of courses in the first semester you can take, but it doesn’t have a ton in the second semesters, and so a lot of the courses in genetics I wanted to take are also in first semester, so that was a little bit of tricky-ness, and actually, it turned out that with the pandemic, I was able to take the courses that would initially conflict, so I would say if you’re trying to do that overlap of courses from other modules or other departments, do your due diligence that they’re not going to be overlapping, not that you just have space for them, but that their class times aren’t overlapping with different courses as it’s not always going to be the pandemic where all the courses are asynchronous and you can kind of watch them from home at whatever time you feel like it, and so, I would just be cautious of that; my module did have a ton of time to work with, and so I was really fortunate that way, but I know some are more second-semester-heavy and bad, and so, just take that into account when you’re making those plans. It’s not just, check that you have the space for it, but that the times don’t conflict.\

Ananya: Well, thank you so much Colette and Cathy for joining us, and giving us your time to talk about all of your experiences, and sharing the important information that you have. This is BMSA’s ITR session for the Biochemistry modules. Check back on our website and social media platforms for the ITR podcast for other modules with new students next week. Thank you for listening and we hope you found this helpful!

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