06 Apr

The Life of an Undergraduate Researcher: JULS Author Edition (Part 3!)

Welcome to Part 3 of our second edition of “The Life of an Undergraduate Researcher”, where we interview undergraduate students at the University of Toronto to ask them about how they got started in research and how their experiences have been.

Curious about how our JULS authors got some of their exposure to research? For our first edition, we are featuring 3 contributors to the upcoming 2017 issue of JULS:

  • Nidaa Rasheed
  • Samuel Walmsley
  • Mohammad-Masoud Zavvarian

Read more about them below!


Name: Nidaa Rasheed

Year of Study: Fourth Year

Program of Study: Double Major in Physiology and Neuroscience, Minor in Psychology

What is your current research project or what would you like your next research topic to be?

I am currently working with Dr. Imre Csizmadia as a fourth year thesis project student using computational chemistry in drug development and biomedicine. My current project looks at the structure-activity relationship of dicoumarol drugs and the effects on its antimicrobial activity against Staphylocous aureus (Staph Infection). My second project investigates the keto-enol tautomerism in Maple Syrup Urine Disease (branched-chain ketoaciduria) leading to the accumulation of toxic byproducts that can result in developmental delay and other health problems.

Read more!

What inspired you to go into your current field?

I was accepted into the computational chemistry lab for CHM299 as part of the ROP299 (Research Opportunity Program), then continued as a thesis project student and Teaching Assistant for my third and fourth years. Initially I was inspired by having the liberty to work on an independent project of my choosing in the biomedical field and the ability to investigate diseases at a molecular setting.

How did your undergraduate experience in science differ from your expectations?

Students tend to think research refers to only wet labs or working in a hospital site; however, there are many important experiments that are run outside of these fields. Although computational chemistry is focused on using computer modelling programs in a dry lab setting, it provides the blueprints to future studies in drug binding, disease mechanisms and much more.

What advice would you give to undergraduate students currently looking to get involved in research?

My biggest advice to undergraduate students would be to explore a variety of research options and to have an open mind at the initial part of the process. Personally, aside of my current lab, I have worked in psychology, nutrition, clinical and neuroscience laboratories that not only allowed me to learn a diverse set of skills but also helped me discover what I was truly passionate about. Do not wait for a “perfect position” to appear, it will only hinder your chances of developing yourself as you close doors even before trying. Have courage and place yourself in positions outside of your comfort zone, as that is truly when you learn your potential and passion.

What are your aspirations post-graduation?

I aspire to become a physician-scientist who implements biomedical research into health care applications.

What do you hope will happen next in science/your field of study?

I hope that computational chemistry is more appreciated as it provides an opportunity to run theoretical studies that not only saves time and effort for pharmaceutical and clinical studies, but also provide the chance to intertwine our growing use of technology in healthcare to enhance our potential to treat diseases.


Name: Samuel Walmsley

Year of Study: Graduated Spring 2016

Program of Study: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cognitive Science, Philosophy

What is your current research project or what would you like your next research topic to be?

I’m currently working with GPS-collared wolves in Manitoba. Fellow researchers and I are following them to identify sites where they’ve killed prey, bedded, and so on. I’m using this data to investigate social cohesion among individuals. Subsequently I hope to develop models of step-by-step wolf movement that include cognitive capacities (e.g. spatial memory) as an explanatory variable.

Read more!

What inspired you to go into your current field?

On a whim, I applied for research excursion with Professor James Thomson for the summer of 2014. This entailed living in the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado, and catching bumblebees across altitudinal transects. I fell in love with the lifestyle of a field biologist, and realized that the associated methodologies would allow me to answer really fascinating questions.

How did your undergraduate experience in science differ from your expectations?

Initially, I didn’t realize how important research experience would be in terms of my understanding of science. I probably learned just as much from these projects as I did from coursework, if not more.

What advice would you give to undergraduate students currently looking to get involved in research?

Look beyond U of T. I’ve been lucky to travel internationally for a few different projects. In addition the fun of experiencing new places, I think that international collaboration and the immersion of oneself into new institutions is really valuable.

What are your aspirations post-graduation?

I’m in the process of deciding on a Master’s program in animal behaviour, either in Canada or Scotland.

What do you hope will happen next in science/your field of study?

One thing that’s often overlooked in ecological work is traditional ecological knowledge, and particularly the understanding of any indigenous communities local to a study species in question. I think that integrating this vast source of knowledge into modern, paper-driven scientific efforts is important, not to mention informative!


Name: Mohammad-Masoud Zavvarian

Year of Study: 4

Program of Study: Genomics and Neuroscience

What is your current research project or what would you like your next research topic to be?

I have been involved in a number of research projects in the fields of genetics and neurobiology. Currently, I am looking at how the brain pattern of patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorders differ from healthy control. Specifically, I am focusing on P300 waveforms, which are being investigated for their abilities in lie detection devices or brain-computer interfering, and analyze how they can be used for diagnosis of anxiety disorders. Since anxiety disorders constitute the most common class of mental illness, this can have great clinical applications.

Read more!

What inspired you to go into your current field?

I believe genetics and neuroscience are two rapidly expanding fields in life sciences. However, there are so many questions that are still unanswered. With the new techniques that are being developed in these fields, our understanding will be significantly enhanced in future. This inspired me to learn more about genetics and neuroscience, and I am looking forward be able to contribute to these respected fields.

How did your undergraduate experience in science differ from your expectations?

Pursuing science at undergraduate level is a two-way street. Primarily, students are here to learn and improve their foundational knowledge. However, an important aspect of your learning is to be involved in research and contribute to the scientific community. By doing so, we will be more motivated and will be willing to work harder because we will have more insight in the significance of concepts learned in class.

What advice would you give to undergraduate students currently looking to get involved in research?

As a mentor for First-Year Learning Communities (FLC) and as a peer advisor for Research Opportunities Program (ROP), I believe students should follow the fields that they enjoy the most, and embark on a path that they are willing to work tirelessly for. I also think having a broad knowledge by taking courses in different fields will help students to be able to contribute more effectively in their fields of study.

What do you hope will happen next in science/your field of study?

I am looking forward to further advances in the domain of connectomics, which encompasses the development of an integrated map for the entire nervous system. This will have significant impact on our understanding of how gene regulations at specific parts of nervous system can lead to altered behavioral outcome. This can potentially help many of our patients with neurodegenerative and psychotic disorders.