Maddy: Hello, and welcome to the ITR session with BMSA, where we interview senior students in the medical sciences program to help you make more informed ITR choices. My name is Maddy, and today I’m joined with Naz, a fifth year student in the IMS program. Naz - why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself.
Naz: Hi Maddy, thanks for the introduction. As you said, I’m in my fifth year, and specifically I’m in the honours specialization of IMS, or Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences. I’m a big sports fan, I love all things Toronto- the Leafs, the Raptors, even TFC (I’m a huge soccer fan). I’m super excited to share what I’ve experienced throughout my time here at Western, and I’m happy to help others make informed decisions for their ITR by sharing what I’ve learned.
Maddy: Great to hear! So as some of you listening may know, IMS is a unique program in that it lacks that fourth year thesis that a lot of the other modules have - a lot of people actually choose the module for that reason. Naz, can you tell me about how your module differs from the others, and how your experience has been not having that honours thesis like a lot of your friends.
Naz: A big reason why I chose IMS was because of the difference in the thesis course - I worked in a lab beginning in second year for the whole year, and stopped halfway through third year, just because although I really respect research and could see myself doing it in the future, it wasn’t something I wanted to be evaluated on in terms of my course work. It takes a long time, and I feel that if you’re evaluated on it, you don’t get the same joy and satisfaction out of doing it. It’s like when you have a hobby that you begin just for fun- once you start making money from it, it can take away some of the passion. I didn’t want to take 1.5 credits in my fourth year revolving around a research thesis, so I decided to do IMS instead. Rather than the thesis, I take two courses, called ‘capstone courses’ - one is lab-based, and the other is seminar-based, and they make up the honours specialization criteria. You still get lab experience, like learning how to work in a wet-lab and understanding the scientific process, and you also get seminar experience where you learn how to analyze and understand research in the scientific community.
Maddy: I think it’s a thing of value for people like yourself who have opportunities for research outside of their fourth year; perhaps if they’ve done a ton of research already they don’t need the fourth year research component, or maybe they’re just not interest in research but still want the honours degree. From what I understand, IMS is also unique because unlike other modules which come with strict course requirements, there is a lot of flexibility in course selection in IMS. I believe you get to pick from three groups of courses to make IMS fit you- what courses have you taken in IMS?
Naz: That’s exactly right - in third year, there are no specific courses you have to take; it all depends on what courses you want to take in your fourth year. I had a big interest in pharmacology and physiology-based courses, so I took the 3000E lab course which filled a requirement for me, which allowed me to work with animal models in the lab. Other people who weren’t as interested in stuff like that took the medical science lab courses, again all depending on where people’s interests lie. So, IMS does allow you to take a wide variety of courses- in my case, I’ve taken a wide variety of pharmacology, physiology, and medical biophysics courses (with a few kinesiology courses in the mix too). However, you just have to be proactive and know which courses you’re interested in for fourth year, and take the right classes in third year.
Maddy: Right, that makes a lot of sense. Compared to the other modules, IMS is the biggest module by far, and so would you say it’s harder to make connections in a program so large? Or does the larger program size actually lend itself to having a wide variety of people to reach out to?
Naz: It’s actually funny you would mention that; the professor who spearheaded IMS, Dr. Nicole Campbell, actually greeted me by name when I walked into my fourth year class - I was so surprised! The IMS community is very close, in that you work with other people often for a lot of your coursework, and the professors behind it take a lot of time to get to know the students in their program. So, in that aspect it’s really easy to make those connections. Of course, it’s different with such a large class size, of about 170, when comparing it to a program which has more intimate supervisor-student relationships in terms of a thesis component, but from my experience, the best relationship I’ve had with a professor has been in my upper years in the IMS program. It’s definitely possible to make those connections!
Maddy: I think a big part of what you’re saying comes down to that proactivity piece; connections are out there to find, if you are willing to go out and make them. Though it may not be as simple as handing someone a supervisor to build a one-on-one relationship with, connections are definitely there to be found. So, going back in time a bit to when you were in second year, what was it that actually made you pick your module, and what set it apart from the other ones?
Naz: A big thing for me was talking to friends who were older than me, and asking what they thought (like what we’re doing here). A lot of people said IMS, while it’s not the easiest module, is very rewarding, and they emphasized that if research wasn’t for you, then by all means take IMS as it gives you the freedom to take whatever courses you’re interested in. I think that’s far more important than doing a specific research thesis- if you’re taking courses you’re interested in, you’re going to succeed and do well in them.
Maddy: I think a big piece as well is that IMS is not just for people who don’t care for research; perhaps some students don’t care for being evaluated in that way, based on their research. They just want to do research on it’s own merit, and not have that comprise 1.5 credits of their fourth year. Now, moving from your second to third year, did you find the transition harder than, say, high school to first year, or first year to second?
Naz: Compared to moving from highschool to first year, it was a walk in the park- honestly, the way the Western BMSc program is organized, you don’t really have much flexibility in your first two years, as all modules have pretty much the same requirements (stats, orgo, genetics, etc.). Going into third year, where you can finally pick courses you’re interested in, not only did my enjoyment in the courses skyrocket, my performance academically speaking went up drastically as well. That’s why when people ask me for ‘bird courses’, you can’t really give an accurate answer; there’s not course that’s just ‘easy’. If you’re interested in what’s being taught, studying becomes so much easier. You enjoy doing it, you spend more time doing it, and you retain the information better. Third year was probably my easiest year, and then my fourth year was really straight-forward, though it did involve a lot of hard work. For those of you who are feeling knocked around after your first two years in this program (which was definitely me), don’t worry because it gets way better - keep you head up, keep grinding, and I promise you it will get better.
Maddy: That’s definitely comforting for people like me in second year, and anyone doing COVID-university right now. It seems kind of difficult at all times, but this is great advice. Looking at your program in a different way, what would you tell someone about your program that may cause them to make a different decision about going into it? So, not necessarily a con, just something prospective students should know.
Naz: It’s not necessarily a con, but I highly, highly recommend being proactive. The two capstone courses are a lot of work (just in the amount of work assigned in each) - it’s substantial. I went into my fourth year placing my more taxing workload-intensive courses in my first semester, and I did my IMS capstone courses in second semester alongside my electives, which were more enjoyment courses. I didn’t have to spend as much time performing at a high level academically, which made my experience more enjoyable- I could set aside other work I knew I could get done at a later time in order to focus on my IMS courses. There are a good number of assignments, and it requires hard work, but I never found that the courses were designed so you couldn’t succeed. If you put in the work, and ask for help, you’ll have a similar experience of my peers and I, who left the courses having done well in them.
Maddy: That’s definitely a good thing to keep in mind; I don’t think there are any professors in our program (and hopefully in any program) that are trying to make it difficult for students to succeed. That’s what I think is great about these ITR decisions is that hopefully students will have an easier time making the decision that’s right for them, to not feel swamped in that second to third year transition. In the fifth year you’re currently in now, are you finishing up some courses, here for enrichment, or a little bit of both?
Naz: Yeah, it actually is a bit of both. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what the future held for me leaving fourth year, so I wanted to buy some time to figure out what to do next year. I took more courses I was interested in, and finished a minor which was cool! Now that I have a firm understanding of what I want to do in the future, I started applying to graduate programs and I’ll see where that takes me.
Maddy: It’s great to hear, and I don’t think people promote enough that a fifth year is an option- you don’t have to go right into medical school or any other professional school, or even a masters program. It is totally an option to go back and explore something you’re interested in. I know money is sometimes one of those contributing things that can deter someone from doing it, but it can be worth the investment to figure out concretely what you want to do, before wasting a lot of time and money later down the line if you rushed the decision.
Naz: A lot of people leaving fourth year were really stressed, because they weren’t sure, and didn’t want to ‘waste a year’ of their life, which I thought was ridiculous. I have a lot of friends who came back for a fifth year because they weren’t ready to start that next chapter in their life. I have friends who took a year off to work, or some who even took a year and are just relaxing (academic exhaustion is a real thing!). They’re happy with the decision they made, and have no regrets, and now they know for sure what they want to do in the future. Don’t be so quick to just rush, and in the long run, a year isn’t as long as you think it is, and if it gives you that piece of mind and certainty in what you want to do in the future, I think it’s more than worth it to take a fifth year, take a year off, etc. This is also not to say knowing what you want to do is a bad thing; there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Maddy: With that being said, do you have any final words for anybody in first or second year who are maybe considering IMS, anything you haven’t already mentioned?
Naz: Something that stuck out to me when I enrolled in IMS were the people who were telling me it’s a lot of writing, it’s hard, ‘good luck getting a good grade in your courses’, those kinds of things. That stuck with me, for about the first two weeks, until I found it wasn’t really substantiated. Going into my IMS writing course, I can say it was a lot of writing, and a lot of people in science are not confident writers- science kids generally don’t enjoy these kinds of courses. Prior to taking that course, I didn’t do well on my last writing assignment prior to that course so at the time I was worried. But, I realized really quickly it’s a product of how much time you put into it. Dr. Nicole Campbell knows that a vast majority of us are really insecure when it comes to writing assignments, especially when writing scientifically. So the course is very much geared towards developing those skills; out of 3 assignments, only 2 of them are marked, for example, which gives you a chance to make mistakes and get feedback for improvement. None of my friends who went through the IMS course with me were unhappy with their performance in the course leaving it. They all did well, and nothing was too difficult that they couldn’t do it. So if anyone tells you something is hard, take it with a grain of salt- it may have been difficult for them, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have that same experience.
Maddy: That’s great advice- sometimes I think it’s part of the culture we’re in in our program that a lot of older students, or peers of ours try to convince us that everything is ‘so difficult’, and we hear phrases like ‘wait until you get to second year, third year”, etc. It always appears that the next year of courses are looming at all times, but it’s nice to hear a senior student say ‘no, it’s fine, if you put in the work, you will get good results’.
Naz: I think we covered a majority of the topics we needed to cover today, and I hope that people benefit from this. Having older peers share their experience with me was really beneficial, and I understand not everyone has that privilege, so it’s nice to be able to pass the information along so that everyone has it moving forward.
Maddy: With that, I think we can conclude this ITR session, thank you Naz for coming on to share your experience. I know you’re a member of SSC (the finance exec), so would it be alright if people reached out to you via your contact info on the SSC website?
Naz: Absolutely, ask me any questions you have, and I’ll send you a link to my personal email as well, though the SSC one is good as well.
Maddy: Be sure to check back on the BMSA website and social platforms for any other ITR podcasts on all the other modules coming out in the next few weeks. Make sure you check out our socials for any other cool initiatives we have coming up. Thanks for listening, we hope this has been helpful!