Biological Chemistry: Student Testimonials

Zainab Mirza

Specialist: Biological Chemistry Co-op
Minor: Environmental Science

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

Chemistry has always been my strong subject. I was always interested in learning about the chemistry of living systems and drug synthesis. Hence, after doing well in first year chemistry labs and course work, I decided to enroll in the Co-op Biological Chemistry specialist program. I never switched programs. I liked what I was doing from the beginning of first year. I highly recommend enrolling in the co-op program. It is totally worth the effort. Moreover, I believe that chemistry and environmental science are very closely related. We always assess the potential of environmental hazards before performing an experiment. This led me to pursuing a minor in Environmental Science.
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

In my opinion, this program is for someone who enjoys calculus and chemistry more than biology. In addition to just biochemistry, the course calendar is designed to provide the candidate with a rigorous background in organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. The upper year courses focus mainly on the structures, synthesis and mechanisms of organic compounds. The lab component associated with many chemistry courses can be a little overwhelming, but I thoroughly enjoyed performing the experiments independently. Students get to analyze proton NMR, FT-IR, GC-MS and TLC data, and write formal lab reports in third year. Courses such as CHMC41/42/47 also encourage public speaking by incorporating a short presentation assignment in the course syllabus. The program "forces" you to take a few challenging courses such as CHMB20/21 (physical chemistry), which will most likely bring your GPA down. However, don't let that discourage you. The program is very rewarding as it prepares you for a variety of professions and grad school programs including medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

  1. Study smart. Do not try to memorize everything. It will not help you succeed in third and fourth year chemistry courses. Understand the concept: Why are aldehydes good electrophiles? Don't just memorize that aldehydes are electrophiles!
  2. Honour your professors and TAs. They can be of great help when it comes to prerequisite issues, after-hours academic help, career advice, references for grad school and daily motivation.
  3. Apply for work-study positions. They are posted on the CLN website for the Summer and Fall/Winter sessions. This is the best way to engage with people from your department and get ideas for grad school/future career.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
I wish to work for a pharmaceutical/biotechnology company right after graduation. I am confident that my extensive co-op experience will help me stand out among the other applicants. If I ever feel the need to return to school, I might pursue a PhD in biochemistry or chemistry.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
My first year was quite stressful as the course calendar "forced" me to take biology, chemistry, physics and calculus in one semester. This was totally avoidable. I could have left a couple tough courses for the summer semester. Hence, my GPA was not as high as I wanted it to be. In second year, I was actively seeking my first co-op work-term and therefore spent most of my spare time volunteering in labs and applying for positions. I failed to manage my time effectively and, consequently, my academics suffered again. However, my work-term was a huge success! I learned a lot and made great connections. Upon returning back to school for third year, I felt extremely motivated and determined to bring my GPA up. I was offered a work-study position in a cell biology lab, and also continued working part-time as a sales associate in a furniture store. Despite the busy schedule, I managed to bring my grades up significantly. I was taking several tough courses during this year including CHMB42, CHMC41, BIOC12, BIOC13 and, BIOB12. However, the determination was immense. I had a goal set for myself. I wanted to achieve high. I did it! Currently, I am on my last one-year long work-term. I look forward to taking the fourth year courses such as pharmaceutical chemistry, intermediate inorganic chemistry and directed research in chemistry.