20 Mar

The Life of an Undergraduate Researcher: JULS Author Edition

Welcome to Part 1 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:

  • Zoha Anjum
  • Neda Jafarian
  • Samantha Jagasar

Read more about them below!


Name: Zoha Anjum

Year of Study: 4th year

Program of Study: Double major in Physiology and Health & Disease

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

Lyme disease incidence has recently been on the rise. Due to an energy-dense diet consumption, obesity rates have also been increasing in the industrialized world. In murine models, we found an aggravation of Lyme disease following a long-term consumption of a high fat diet. I am currently conducting a study on the relationship between Lyme disease and diet-induced obesity with an aim to identify molecular markers that may be involved in the pathogenesis of Lyme disease in obesity.

Read more!

What inspired you to go into your current field?

During my 2nd year, I completed a course an introductory course in health & disease where I learned about the emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. I was fascinated by how microbes exploit our normal physiological processes to cause infection. This experience motivated me to pursue research in infectious diseases and how our lifestyle may affect out susceptibility to developing infections. Aligning with my interests, I landed a work-study position in Dr. Tara Moriarty’s lab in the fall of 2015 and haven’t left ever since!

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

I had no interest in research when I started university mainly because of my unfamiliarity with the field. After getting motivation from a friend, I applied for a work-study research position in my 2nd year, and this gave my research career a head-start. I embraced this position with an open mind and not too high expectations. Although the duties I performed as a beginner were not as sophisticated, I still learned a lot about research ethics, communication and intrapersonal skills during my time. It wasn’t until I took on my own project that I realized what scientific research entails. Research is about discovery! It’s about experimental failures that lead to success! Discoveries aren’t made overnight. The scientific knowledge we learn in our courses is the outcome of dedication and life worth of work of thousands of individuals. What’s even more interesting is that despite knowing a lot about science, we still don’t know what we don’t know!

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

Get a mentor! Don’t limit yourself! Apply for positions that you think you have no chance of getting, and reach out to your peers for help. Had I not applied for my very first work-study research position back in 2014, I would not have been able to have wonderful experiences and contribute to the research world. We all need to get our foot in the door and a little push towards what we want to do. Be your own advocate and make use of all the fantastic resources and opportunities available to you as a University of Toronto student. Also, don’t be afraid of cleaning glassware and filling pipette boxes as a beginner’s task. You have got to start somewhere at the bottom to make your way up, right?

What are your aspirations post-graduation?

I aim to pursue a Master’s in Public Health with a specialization in infectious disease epidemiology after graduation. I am very interested in using my animal studies in Lyme disease and obesity as a foundation to perform epidemiological studies in the human population. It would be interesting to see if there is an association between increasing incidence of obesity and Lyme disease. In case of presence of a correlation, this might be an opportunity to implement some public health programs to prevent the further increase in the incidence of Lyme disease.

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

I think the next best thing to happen in science would be development of a computer software or a device that will allow us to predict future epidemics such as Zika and Ebola before the severity escalates!


Name: Neda Jafarian

Year of Study: 4

Program of Study: Neuroscience

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

I am currently working in a research team under supervision of Dr. Shirazi at Ted Rogers School of Information and Technology. We work closely on a multidisciplinary research area and synthesize knowledge on HIV, IT and Big Data Analytic. Using information and Internet kiosk systems to provide medical information to HIV patients in developing countries.

What inspired you to go into your current field?

Science and IT have always fascinated me and the importance of understanding these two have never been more important than they are today. My current field of study is Neuroscience with a double minor in Physiology and Biology. During my second year at UofT and my first research project at Ryerson, I became more interested in how science and technology feed off one another. Lastly, I enjoy the challenge of problem solving and believe that life science along with information technology would be a challenging- but rewarding- course of study.

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

In general, the Science/Technology field has provided the meaningful, challenging and cutting-edge work that I expected. Working in different research projects and being an undergraduate science student who is still learning was not only a great opportunity for me to practice, and improve, but also it was an outstanding experience that helped me think about my future personal and professional development plans. Although I had a strong background in the basics of health science and critical-thinking skills, one of the major transitions I had to make during my research involvement was moving from “textbook science” to “real world science.” In high school, the homework problems, projects, labs, etc. that were part of the courses were contrived and all had clear answers that students were expected to find. However, in undergrad where it comes to practical science, a problem can have multiple correct solutions to meet the requirements.

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

After being involved in research for over three years, I think I can narrow down the most useful advice to the following:

First of all, DO NOT be afraid of taking on research that you’re not familiar with. Go after something that looks or sounds interesting to you, not necessarily a famous person’s lab. You’ll be soon surprised by how far it can take you down the road. Secondly, communicate well with your team, especially with the professor and learn from every person as much as possible. Research is really an extension of curriculum. Last but not least, do not cringe on the grunt work that is required during research. Sometimes something trivial can come of utmost importance.

What are your aspirations post-graduation?

I wish to earn a degree of Master of Science in Management, later followed by a career in

Health Management.

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

There is too many things that can happen over the next few years. The most important one that I would like to happen is the development of Brain Computer Interface. BCI is a new technology that transmits signals directly to someone’s brain and helps them to see, hear or feel specific sensory inputs. For severely disabled people, development of BCI could be the most important technological breakthrough in decades.


Name: Samantha Jagasar

Year of Study: 3

Program of Study: Specialist (Co-operative) in Psychology

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

I am currently working with researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to investigate the relationship between fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that regulates anandamide, and several neuropsychiatric conditions.

Read more!

What inspired you to go into your current field?

As a person with type 1 diabetes, I’ve experienced the psychological impact that this disease can have on the diagnosed individual and their loved ones. This experience sparked my interest in psychology as I began to read scientific articles exploring the relationship between chronic illness and mental health. I have wanted to pursue a career in psychology ever since.

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

I never expected to be contributing to research at CAMH as an undergraduate student! Thanks to hard work, and U of T’s co-op program and partnership with CAMH, I have this amazing opportunity.

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

I would advise them to take advantage of every opportunity out there. Apply for work-study positions, volunteer in labs on campus or at hospitals! Take courses that involve lab work and writing research articles or literature reviews. If you want to pursue a career in research, these experiences will enhance your skills and give you a competitive edge when applying to a post-graduate institution.

What are your aspirations post-graduation?

After graduation, I plan on applying to a Master’s and then a Ph.D. program in psychology. The ultimate goal is to pursue a career in teaching at a university or college, and continue contributing to research that investigates the relationship between chronic illness and mental health.

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

I hope that more improvements will be made to the artificial pancreas device system to improve the mental and physical health of those living with type 1 diabetes. More control of blood glucose levels and less needles would be nice!