BMSA Podcast: Pathology
Updated: Jan 28
Interviewer: Neel Thanavala
Interviewee: Darya Abdolmaleki (grad student)
Neel: “Hello and welcome to the ITR session with BMSA where we interview senior students in the medical science program to give you a better background for your intent to register choices. My name is Neel Thanavala and today we’re joined by Darya Abdolmaleki. So, Darya, to start off our podcast can you tell the listeners about yourself.
Darya: Nice to meet you in Neel and everyone who else is listening my name is Daria and I am actually a recent graduate of the pathology module in medical science. I actually just started my graduate studies in the department as well. I am really interested in research, but I also have an end goal of attending medical school which I think a lot of the students in the medical science program do as well.
Neel: Well that sounds really interesting and obviously you share the same goals as a lot of people that are in first and second year. Could you tell the viewers a little more about your experience at Western specifically about your module, what it's all about and why you chose it.
Darya: I came a long way to be in medical science. I traveled across the country; I am from Alberta, so it was a pretty big goal for me to figure out what part of medical sciences I actually really enjoyed. So, in first year, a lot of the courses are similar to what you're learning in high school. It's really hard to figure out how to use your first-year experience to select a module, but I think for me, my clarity came in second year. I was taking courses that are in biochemistry, some courses that are physiology, some in micro-immunology. I tried to take courses from a little bit of all of the options that were present for me and I don't know if anyone else has experienced this but I wasn't really drawn to any particular course that I had taken so I was kind of in this position where I am not really interested in biochemistry; it's a little bit too in-depth for me or physiology which is good but it's a little bit more about the normal functioning of the body and immunology was also very interesting to me but I wasn't interested in the in the virology or bacteriology part. I knew what I didn't like and that’s what drew me to pathology which is the study of the diseases that the body is infected by. If you find yourself in a position similar to me where you are interested in the human body but maybe not so much just the normal functioning of it but a little bit of how it goes awry then you could then I think that pathology is very interesting. In that sense, that's kind of how I found myself drawn to pathology towards the end of second year where I did my ITR and I listed it as one of my options and I was lucky enough to be selected in the program.
So that was kind of my first and second year but as I went on in third year of pathology and I don't know if a lot of people have any information about that, but third year is quite heavy. It's a module where you have to know quite a bit of information to be able to understand diseases, you need to know physiology and microbiology. You have to have a pretty good basis, so it ends up being a really heavy third year with a lot of requirements. I have to say that all of those courses that I have taken were my favourite. Third year of pathology was an overload of information, but I couldn't have done without it
So, when I went into fourth year it really narrowed out. I had multiple pathology courses that I was taking, and the classes were very small, maybe 15 to 20 students at most. We were this cohort that were just taking different types of pathology so whether it was on cancer pathology or environmental pathology. My favourite course by far was our pathology course where we studied many different autopsies. It was very restricted to students in the program and we also had some graduate students who actually worked in autopsy labs as well, so it was a very interesting course. The third year is very heavy in information, but you need to have that to really understand the content in fourth year which is a lot more restricted to diseases and all the students in the course or just the ones that are in the module.
Neel: You mentioned that you found out that third year was very tough content-wise, is there anything else you wished you would have known about the pathology module before you entered it?
Darya: I wish that I had a better understanding of what the content was before I entered it. I was struggling my way through 3rd year; multiple exams, multiple courses. I had very little electives to take but as I found myself in that position if I had known how interesting my fourth year was going to be, that I was going to be able to go into Anatomy labs and see cadavers the part of my course or get information about recent deaths in Ontario and how to evaluate those case studies it would have been a bit more motivating to get through 3rd year. I mean if anyone else is listening, I can tell you that third year is going to be a little tough in the pathology module but nevertheless it's definitely interesting and keep going forward because it is for sure worth it when your taught by the best coroners in Ontario and they bring up cases that happened just outside of London or just in Toronto. You get to learn about a lot of relevant cases and it's not just about the body and death and diseases. You'll learn about a lot of other concepts like ethics of the diseases and we do a lot of ethical evaluations in pathology as well which also is a little interesting and I don't think a lot of the medical Sciences modules really go through with that so I think that was also really interesting to learn. Also, if I had known about how the breadth of the program was going to be in fourth year, I would have seen the value in the struggles that I went through in third year.
Neel: Obviously the pathology module seems very interesting and it seems to be taught by excellent professors. When it comes to a thesis project did you complete one or is there a reason behind why you didn't complete one and if you did, what did you think of it?
Darya: I actually did complete a thesis project in my fourth year, and I did this project along with 15 students in the module. The way that the thesis program is set up in pathology is that you can either be pre-matched with a supervisor the summer before fourth year, so you submit that supervisor's name to the thesis coordinator and you can pretty much get started on your project in the summer. I wasn't lucky enough to do that so I had to be matched during the fall season and we are given a list of projects in the summer where we can contact supervisors talk to them and figure out which supervisor and project is a good match for us. Once we find a supervisor and they agree to have us as a student; usually this happens in September, sometimes in October if it is challenging. This year with COVID it has been a little bit later but once you are matched you can get started. The thing about pathology is that with the breadth of projects available you can do anything from wet lab work where you working with cell lines, bacteria or any type of animal model to anywhere clinical where you are working with case patient cases and files or even to the level of bioinformatics. It's a very wide breadth of information and it's a good module if you want to get that type of knowledge. I have a friend who didn't think they would be interested in informatics and in fourth year she had a thesis in bioinformatics and now she's doing a master’s in it. My thesis was a wet lab project, I did a research project on chemo-resistant ovarian cancer. I worked with ovarian cancer cell lines as well as some patients’ cases as well, so I had both clinical and some wet lab experiences. I have to say that from the presentations I heard during my thesis class, I learned a lot about how to evaluate patient cases and hospital profiles and also how to look at some bacterial growth. It's a very large array of information but my experience with my thesis was very well. The coordinator that leads the thesis program is very organized. You have a very good timeline and they're also very flexible. It's a small thesis program to there's only 15 students and we all know each other and each other's projects and supervisors. It is very flexible in that sense and I think that had to be my favourite part of the module; the thesis and how small the cohort was so that we really got attention from our coordinator.
Neel: It sounds like a very close-knit program and very well taught. Lastly, to wrap up the interview is there anything that you have to say to first or second years that are listening who may be going through some confusion about how the whole ITR process works or something that confused you?
Darya: Ya, I mean the first thing is you're not alone. The ITR process is confusing to everyone, in first year, I didn't know what an ITR was and in second year it is actually really difficult because you don't know which module to pick and how to list your top two. Also, in third year where you're uncertain if you're going to be able to stay in the same program which you were selected to be in third year. The ITR process is a little different every year so I'd say in first year if you're happy with medical sciences and you want to pursue some of these modules then select to stay in the program. If you're not and you're interested in some other science departments, maybe something like environmental sciences or biology then you can choose a different science module. When it comes to second year do your research, listen to podcasts like this, talk to students in the modules which you're interested in and ask about their experiences to make an informed decision of how to list your top two. I think if you're listening to this podcast you're already on the right path.
Neel: Thank you Darya for coming on the podcast and sharing your experiences with everyone. As a second-year student myself I learned a lot of new things about the pathology module that I didn't know previously, and I am sure all the other listeners will as well. This was BMSA's ITR session for the pathology module. Check back on our website and social media platforms for ITR podcast for other modules with new students next week. Thank you for listening and hope this has been helpful!