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BMSA Podcast: Microbiology & Immunology

Spotify Podcast Link:

Interviewer: Varunaavee

Interviewee: Sherry Tan

Varunaavee: Hello and welcome to the ITR session with BMSA, where we interview senior students in the medical sciences program to help you make your intent to register choices. My name is Varunaavee and today we’re joined by Sherry Tan.

Sherry: Hi Varunavee, thanks for having me! I’m excited to join the BMSA podcast to introduce the module that I’m in - I’m in microimm - and share with everyone the experience that I’ve had thus far.

Varunaavee: That’s awesome! Alright, so how about we start off with a little bit about yourself.

Sherry: So as I said before, I’m in the microimm module and I’m in my fourth year of the program. Finishing up, hoping to graduate soon… couldn’t be fast enough! A fun fact about myself is that my favourite marine mammal is a sea otter. I met two sea otters when I went kayaking in Alaska the summer of 2019 and they’re just absolutely adorable, like little sea dogs! Whenever I meet someone new, I love to share the video that I captured of them!

Varunaavee: That’s so cute! Alright, so 4th year microimm, how’s your experience been in the module so far?

Sherry: I would say that compared to the bigger modules like IMS or physpharm, microimm definitely is smaller, and so our classes are smaller so you get to know the students better. Coming into the module in third year not knowing a lot of the students in the microimm program itself, I got to meet a lot of new people during labs and class projects, and then you just make friends and form study groups to get through stressful assignments and exams. The labs definitely provided a hands-on experience, like different lab techniques that you’ll use in your thesis, graduate school research, and lab work if you decide to pursue, for example, an internship at Sanofi. The skills that I learned from the bacteriology and the immunology lab definitely translated to landing me a job, actually for the Sanofi Pasteur internship. That’s a program that UWO offers in conjunction with... they collaborate with a bunch of different workplaces to help you land an immunology related field internship. I think that the module has a lot to offer and I’ve had a good experience so far!

Varunaavee: That sounds so cool! In second year, what is it about microimm that made you choose it?

Sherry: I think my experience compared to other people is quite different. I actually chose to switch into the microimm program in my third year, as opposed to second year. Because when you’re in your second year, you choose your “module” for third year, but really that’s just a placeholder. So I chose the generic physpharm module like everyone else did in second year, but then when I had started working more in … so I worked in Dr. Kerfoot’s lab over the summer of second year, and he’s an immunology lab, and getting to do more of the hands-on technique, I really realized that immunology is what I enjoyed more. So I decided to switch into the microimm module at the beginning of my third year! I remember it was the summer, I walked into (as many of you know) Kathy Boon’s office, and I asked her “what should I do if I want to switch into the microimm module”. She said “as long as you take the courses required for the microimm module, and you get the marks that you need in your third year, in conjunction with your second year courses to calculate the admission average for the fourth year, you’ll be fine!” I think that really might help alleviate some of the stress that some of the listeners are having right now on whether or not they’re making the right decision, and feeling as though they’ve locked in their choice in second year. That’s not really the case. Obviously if you know for sure, it’ll make it easier, because I do remember in third year, when I was waiting for all my marks to come in and for the averages to be calculated, and figuring out whether I would get into the fourth year thesis program, that was definitely nerve-wracking, but it was also comforting to know that I could change my decision.

Varunaavee: Yeah that makes sense. Is there anything that you wish you knew before choosing your module?

Sherry: I think definitely the diversity of microimm profs in third and fourth year. Obviously in second year you’re already introduced to a variety of the microimm professors like Dr. Summers, Dr. Dikeakos, Dr. McCormick to name a few, but there are so many other professors within the department. Especially if you’re thinking of pursuing the honours thesis program within the module, you may want to look at the other profs who are available to host an honours thesis student, and looking into this early so that you can work with the prof and have an honours thesis project that excites you. I’m lucky that even though I didn’t do this, I ended up really liking my prof and the project that I ended up having. But I do know that some people, because they didn’t look early enough, they winded up being matched with someone that they... they could have found someone who excited them more. So I would encourage you to do that.

Varunaavee: That’s a really good tip. I’m sure that’s really helpful for the listeners. So I guess I have one last question, do you have any final words for first year or second year students listening, or maybe even third year students who want to switch, who may be a little bit confused about whether or not they should go for microbiology and immunology?

Sherry: I would say that the biggest advice is to talk to multiple fourth year students and hear their perspectives. We’ll all have different things to share, but that will provide a more holistic view of what the program truly is like. Another thing is don’t be scared to pursue a module that’s not the generic one, or because someone says that it’s a super hard one, or because someone tells you that “this module” is more appropriate if you want to pursue med school; do something that you want to do. Figure out what will work best for you as opposed to following a bunch of sheep into doing one thing that people have somehow said to be the “appropriate choice”. The other one is don’t be too worried about making the wrong decision! Like I said, if you decide you want to change your module, you can just make an appointment with Kathy Boon! She’s incredibly helpful, and she’ll walk you through the necessary steps to get to where you want. Lastly, I would say that if you’re looking for hands-on experience and clinically relevant applications in what you study, I would say the microimm module is a very very good choice. The labs really prepare you well for writing your honours thesis. You get a lot of hands-on lab experience compared to the other modules, where you’re actually doing dissections, immunizations, plating bacteria, we did some western blots as well, RNA and DNA sequencing. The lab techniques are definitely very helpful for, like I said, graduate work, internships, all that good stuff. Especially in the post-COVID world, there may be even more work opportunities in the microimm field, so do check out all your options before you make a choice.

Varunaavee: That’s really good advice! Thank you so much for sharing, Sherry. I think that’s it for today. Again, thanks again for speaking about your experience, I’m sure it was really helpful for any students listening. This was BMSA’s ITR session for the microbiology and immunology 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 we hope this has been helpful!

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