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BMSA Podcast: Medical Biophysics

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Interviewer: Kaitlin Lees

Interviewee: Natalie Li

Kaitlin: Hello everyone and welcome to another ITR session with BMSA, where we interview senior students in the medical science program in order to give you guys a better background for your internet to register choices. My name is Kaitlin Lees and today we’re joined by Natalie Li. So Natalie, why don’t we start off with you telling me a little bit about yourself!

Natalie: Okay sure! I’m a fourth year student doing an honours specialization in medical biophysics. I’m also a research student in the translational biophotonics lab with Dr. Mamadou Diop and I figure skate on the varsity team.

Kaitlin: Wow that’s awesome! I would love to hear more about your experiences in medical biophysics if you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?

Natalie: Of course! I’ve loved my experience in medical biophysics because it leaves that conventional textbook learning that you do in first and second year behind. Each course essentially is taught by a professor where they expose you to their cutting edge area of research, and they provide you with the technical skills like coding in mathematics, as well as the expertise to not only understand the areas of research, but to actively contribute to them in your fourth year. You enter the program with a very basic overview of the sciences so it’s kind of neat to reflect back on how much you actually learned over just the two years of specialization. The other thing I really like about it is that it's a really tight-knit community of students and everyone is super supportive of each other.

Kaitlin: Yeah that’s awesome and I believe you mentioned that you’re doing research as well, I’d be interested to hear a little more about your thesis project.

Natalie: Yeah for sure! As I said before, I’m working in the translational biophotonics lab which means that we’re using light in medical applications, and so, my research project is developing algorithms to monitor the brain for stroke using near infrared light. It’ll essentially enable real time continuous monitoring of the brain at the bedside, and because the brain is so important to who we are as people, it’s really important to intervene quickly if something goes wrong. So, this research will enable doctors to intervene as soon as there’s a problem and it will save a lot of patients’ lives when they come into the ICU and need that type of monitoring.

Kaitlin: That’s amazing, I can only imagine the impact of that! I’m curious if there’s something in particular that made you want to choose this module?

Natalie: Yeah! When I was younger, I was really fascinated with how medical images are made and so, when I was looking into what module to choose in my third year, I saw that medical biophysics has a lot of courses in the required curriculum that address exactly that. So not only the machinery behind how medical images are acquired, but also the mathematics and computer science that describes how the medical images are made from that data that they collect, and so that's kind of what drew me to the module.

Kaitlin: Definitely! That’s really cool. I also heard there’s a few different concentrations available under that biophysics umbrella, so I was hoping that maybe you could explain the differences between them?

Natalie: Yeah for sure! I am in the medical sciences concentration which is a relatively fixed concentration and it ends in a BMSC degree. However, there’s also two other concentrations that end in a BMSC degree, namely the clinical physics concentration; which is good if you want to go into a clinical physics graduate program which is available at Western. Also, there is the biochemistry and biophysics module concentration which exposes you to both biochemistry and biophysics. Then there are also two other biophysics concentrations that end in a BSC degree, namely the biological sciences concentration; which focuses more on like physics within the body, and then the physical sciences concentration which is the most flexible of all the concentrations.

Kaitlin: That’s great, thank you so much for breaking those down for us! I was wondering now that you’re halfway done your final year in the program, if there’s something that you wish you knew before choosing biophysics?

Natalie: Yeah, I wish I knew that there was a third year thesis project because that kind of took me off guard in third year. It’s actually an excellent opportunity to explore an area of research before you commit to something for a full year in your fourth year. Essentially, they give you an eight week project where you do all the different components of a thesis but it’s less intense. For instance, you do a three minute thesis presentation, you write a thesis report, and you have to do a thesis defence, but it’s all at kind of a lower stakes level than in the fourth year so it’s kind of an awesome opportunity that I didn’t realize I had, but I’m very grateful that I did.

Kaitlin: Yeah, that sounds like a really great stepping stone in order to prepare you for fourth year and definitely nice to know ahead of time! Just to finish things up here, do you have any final words for first or second year listeners who may be experiencing you know- some confusion when trying to pick a path for the rest of their time in undergrad?

Natalie: Yeah! I would say that the best advice I can give is to go into the module that makes you genuinely excited to learn the material. I think it’s easy a lot of the time for students to choose modules because they hear that they’re easier or that they hear that it’s a traditional path towards a certain career or grad school option. But I’m of the opinion that if you find a module that you really want to pursue just for your personal interests, that you’ll be more successful and fulfilled by your choice. You will be able to find those opportunities for you at the end because you're passionate about what you’re learning and you’ll be developing the skills that you want. So I know there’s a lot of different modules out there and if you’re kind of unsure about which one may be for you, I recommend kind of reflecting on what knowledge and skills you want to leave after your fourth year with to go off and pursue whatever career you may be interested in, and then really explore what the courses in each module will be doing to help you develop those skills.

Kaitlin: That’s amazing advice and I couldn’t agree more! Thank you so much for joining us today Natalie and providing some insight into one of the many modules med sci offers. This was BMSA’s ITR session for the medical biophysics module. Check back on our website and social media platforms for ITR podcasts for other modules with new students next week. Thank you for listening, and hopefully this has been helpful!

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