Biology: Student Testimonials

Jamila Norman

Majors: Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology

 

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

Starting my undergrad here I knew I would be studying Biology. I have always wanted to be a vet and pediatrician (I know I have to choose one. I’m still in the process of deciding.) and wanting to continue studying in the Sciences, I chose my favorite science subject. I, however, didn't know what my other major would be or if I'd do a Biology specialist. I figured I'd have the entire school year to figure that out anyway. I chose my courses for first year but got an email right before classes began, telling me that I couldn't take one of the courses due to co-requisite requirements. This messed up my entire schedule. I had to quickly choose a course/courses since classes were starting in a matter of days. I was going through the courses being offered and came across a first year Anthropology course- Introduction to Anthropology: Becoming Human. I love the series 'Bones' so I thought I might like the course. This was the best decision I’ve made as an undergraduate. Dr. Silcox is the best professor I’ve had. She truly loves what she does and it comes across in the way she teaches. Anthropology professors in general don’t see a line between being a good teacher and a good researcher and I think this makes the classes so much better. By the end of the course I knew that Evolutionary Anthropology would be my second major.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 

Anthropology is the study of the origin, evolution, societies and cultures of humans. This is typically split into two categories: Socio-cultural anthropology which focuses on the cultural aspects and Evolutionary/ Physical Anthropology which focuses on the biological aspects. My focus is Evolutionary Anthropology where I study hominins (modern humans, extinct human species and our ancestors.), monkeys and apes. The program begins by teaching the theory of evolution, discussing the biological processes and applying this knowledge to the archeological evidence available. We learn the various ways in which fossils are dated. We discuss the controversies in the discipline. For example, are Neanderthals part of our species (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) or are they a completely different species (Homo neanderthalensis). We get to work with real specimens as well as casts of specimens that otherwise would not be available to us. The courses available range from Primate Behaviour to Bioarchaeology. Of the courses I’ve taken, the Anthropology courses always seem to be the most interesting and you can see that the professors truly love teaching. Also, what you learn in one Evolutionary Anthropology class is built on in further courses. There are obvious links between ALL the courses which isn’t so obvious when you study a varied subject such as Biology. Some persons probably see this as a benefit of Biology and to some extent I’d agree. There is something for every type of Biologist. Among others, courses include Physiology, Anatomy, Immunology, Genetics, Cell Biology, Ecology, Biochemistry, Microbiology and Conservation. This means that you could choose to focus on one area of the discipline in your final 2 years of undergraduate studies, or, choose to do a range of courses as I did. Some of the courses have lab sections where you do experiments related to the topics being discussed in lecture. In both majors there are courses that are difficult, but it is not impossible to do well in them.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
1. For any program you’re in, try to get to know your professors. They are key sources of help in your courses as well as potential persons to write your reference letters for work, grad school etc. They may also be how you get your foot in the door of the career you are interested in. Ask if they have volunteer or work study positions you participate in.
2. Do courses you like. Biology courses can seem particularly difficult but I know that if you like the course, the chance of you doing well is significantly increased.
 3. Keep up. If you don’t understand something in Anthropology, in particular, ask for clarification as soon as possible. As I said before, you build on previous info from course to course. Understanding a first year Anthropology course for example will be beneficial in helping you to do well as you progress through your program.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
 
Upon completion of my Biology and Anthropology majors I will get my Honours Bachelor of Science Degree. There are a variety of jobs I can get considering the courses I took. These include being a museum program coordinator, research analyst, research assistant, an intern in a conservation related government group, or a lab technician. My plan however is to go the medical school or vet school. I may also decide to go to graduate school to study Forensic Anthropology. I would like to work in the field as a consultant helping to identify remains whenever I get the chance.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
In my first year of undergrad I decided to complete my breadth requirements and as I mentioned before, this is when I started studying Anthropology. I was in the First-Year Experience Program which helps new students with becoming acclimatized to the university both academically and socially. This made it possible for me to meet a few members of the Department of Student Life (DSL). This is also when I did my first biology courses- one was a second year biology course. I also got the opportunity to volunteer in the Silcox Lab where I segmented microCT data from fossil and extant rodents to extract endocasts. In second year, I continued my biology program with the set requirements and got to branch out with the Anthropology courses since specific courses aren’t required in the program. I continued volunteering in the Silcox Lab. I started volunteering with the DSL where I was a mentor in the Community Engagement and the First-Year Experience Programs. I also joined the executive team of a campus group. In my first semester of third year I went on study abroad in Australia where I completed courses for my Programs. Two highlights are that for one of my Biology course I got to dissect a kangaroo and for an Anthropology course I worked with a real human skeleton to determine what diseases the individual may have had. When I returned, I continued with my courses and participated in the Lead Program run by the DSL. This is meant to develop or improve students’ leadership skills. I was also on the executive team of a campus group. In fourth year, I am completing my last Biology course for my program and doing quite a few Anthropology courses to complete that Program as well. I am participating in the Women in Leadership Program focused on ensuring that young women have skills in leadership, career planning, goal-setting and negotiation. The focus is to stay involved on campus and maintain my grades. It has been an interesting 4 years.

Arika Hisatsune

Majors: Environmental science and biochemistry major
Minor: Biology

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
Since I received an acceptance letter, I always wanted to go for biochemistry specialist. That was my one and only goal. However, after attending my first year of university here, my vision changed. I choose these programs because I wanted to learn more of environmental science after taking first year courses and not only biochemistry. Biochemistry program offers me a deep understanding and application of expensive techniques in class and in labs that will allow me to stand out the most amongst other applicants for the future graduate studies. In labs, TAs are more helpful and you get to hear about their study or research as well, which gives me an idea of what I should expect in my further study. Also, in the environmental science program, professors will tell you about their research studies as well and are really motivated that you get to learn more than what is written on the textbook. Hearing about professionals' research  daily, you will not only get to acquire extra knowledge that other students probably won't have, but also, you sometime get to see the actual instrument and learn about them in depth, which you will need to know for your graduate studies. These two major programs are going to offer me a deep understanding of ‘life' around myself and I knew these programs would make me an overall well rounded applicant for graduate school, especially with multidisciplinary courses required for those majors.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Being a part of this program has taught me how to overcome my weaknesses and apply critical-thinking skills to actual workplace challenges or to real life situations. The highlights of these programs are that you will get to pick classes that you are most interested in as there will be a lot of options offered for you to pick from, to complete the degree. Also, as the level of the course proceeds, you get to learn, for example water, in more depth taught by professors that specialize in that field so you get to learn things others won't know.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

- Visit the office hours of your professors or anyone who you know works in your program area. They will tell you of their experiences and their research in depth. Sometimes they allow you to assist in some of their research projects as well. Making connection with professors could allow you to have more potential to work in a department or company and gain valuable work experience. Those experiences could make you outstanding amongst others applying to the same graduate study programs and also, you will have a clearer vision on what you will be working on if you are really going to pursue that field.
 - Put effort in studying. People might laugh at you for studying all the time, or call you a nerd, but don't mind them. If you have friends in other schools, they might make you feel a little depressed that you have to work much harder than they do to get a good grade since our school requires you to work hard and put in much effort into everything. However, you will gain more experience and knowledge out of those efforts which is a good thing! Keep believing in yourself and never give up and keep putting the effort into studying. Your time will come when it is right.
- Get involved with school and meet new people. Meeting people will allow you to have a better connection but also, learn more perspectives. Perspective in any field are important and it won't hurt to learn and know about more perspectives. Getting involved will allow you to have a better resume as well and I use meeting times as my break from studying. Take advantage of the many resources on campus. There are many opportunities you could jump onto at any time!
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

The degree I earn will allow me to get involved in many fields in environmental science and also biochemistry, but my goal is to be a researcher in either of these fields. The degree will allow me to enrol into a grad school that offers a high education, which will allow me to be a better researcher or technician. Being a great researcher or technician will allow you to make a positive change to yourself but also to the greater society.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
First year was a rough year, and I'm not going to lie about it. I am sure that a lot of you had the same experience as I did and are scared of the next year or so, but do not worry, your upper years will be better. First year for me was really rough, I am an international student and being away from home by myself was tough but also, the school workload was way more than I expected. Chemistry and biology were not that bad, however, physics was really terrible such that I had to study everyday every minute yet my result did not come out as I wanted. I had friends who never studied but got a perfect mark on midterm or final, and I envied them. However, I did not have any problems with finding or making friends because I went out for residence events and was a member of intramural soccer team on campus. It was not easy for me to go tryout on the first day by myself, but I am glad that I did it because I made a lot of friends there and upper years on my team helped me get through a rough year. These activities helped me through the transition from high school to university. In second year, I learnt what I learnt in first year in more depth. I also got involved with school, went to office hours and I had to manage my time wisely and sometimes, I felt a little overwhelmed, but I made a lot of connections here that helped. I adapted my study habit from first year enough that in second year, I was on my butt all day and studying for my classes. My grades were great, and I regained confidence in myself. I am currently in my third year and I now have a great connections with my professors from last year that I go to their office hours, even though they are not currently my professors, to talk about topics that were brought up in my class or something that pops up in my head. It has not been a smooth nice path, but it definitely grew me as a person and I have learned lessons that I can apply to in the future.

Srusti Pandya

Major: Public Policy Co-op,
Minors: Political Science and Biology

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
I have been changing programs from my first year at UTSC till recently, my 4th year fall semester. I came to UTSC interested in pursuing a Chemistry co-op program and ever since then, I have shown an interest for programs in biology, psychology, management, environmental science, health studies and political science. As I progressed throughout my undergrad, I was always curious to explore the wide variety of courses UofT offered. Having always been a science student, I decided to use these four years to explore my interests and discover which program I can thrive in. Multiple factors, like academic & personal interests, future career opportunities, professors and academic performance, have contributed to these choices. Ultimately I decided on these program choices, specifically Public Policy co-op, because of the multidisciplinary nature of the program. It encompassed my multiple interests, as it allowed me to take courses in public policy, political science, management, health studies, while also giving me valuable professional experience in the industry.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
The multidisciplinary approach to this program allows you to gain a deep understanding of public policies and government processes, while still being able to study and apply this to your other interest areas. This program equips you with the qualitative and quantitative analytical skills you would need to be successful policy analysts. In my case, it even enabled me to be a successful business analyst. This is in large part due to the great professors in the department and the classroom dynamics, which allow you to actively interact with the professor and other students. You can always count on professors to help you with coursework as well as guide you in your professional aspirations. Another highlight of the program is the co-op option where you have the opportunity to apply your skills and knowledge at great placements, in the public, private or non-profit sectors. Through my 8 month placement at Cancer Care Ontario, a provincial agency under the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, I was able to grow professionally and personally. The exposure I received and network I built made my Public Policy experience truly comprehensive. This is largely attributed to the rigorous Public Policy program and resources offered by the Co-op department and AA&CC. Although the courses and co-op search can be difficult, successfully overcoming these challenges makes a tremendous contribution to your professional and personal growth.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
1) Public Policy is a great program to be in and at an early stage one of the things I would advise is to really use the opportunity to explore your interests. In order to be successful in any program you need to have a passion for what you are studying and have a purpose for studying it. This enables you to thrive in it and be able to face any challenges. The best way to really do this is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do the research. This can mean exploring different courses, talking to faculty members about opportunities in public policy, connecting with students who have gone through this program and meeting with representatives from AA&CC and the Co-op department. The key is to really internalize your program choice and ensure what you are studying complements your interests, skills and aspirations.
2) The second piece of advice I would give is to be active on campus. One thing I have always kept consistent throughout my four years is my extracurricular activities, along with seeking out new opportunities. These experiences allow you to meet new people and network. You will find you have a lot in common with them, yet still realize that every UofT student has a unique story to share. As you build your network, you will learn of new opportunities which can only add to your growth. In addition, being involved with clubs and DSAs makes you feel like you are part of a community yet still allow you to stand out. Your extracurricular activities will be just as much of a learning experience as your classes.
3) Have fun! As a 4th year student, I can say how important and memorable your undergraduate experience is. I know it can be stressful and you can often lose direction. It's just as important to take the time out to take care of yourself as it is to work hard in school. This involves managing your time and giving yourself a break when needed. Remember, there is no one path to being successful so always go for the experiences that reflect who you are as an individual.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 
One of the best things about an undergraduate degree, especially one in Public Policy, is that it equips you with the essential skills needed to be successful in any post-grad direction you take. Whether you want to secure employment or study further, all the doors are open for you. Upon graduation, I have a few directions I am considering. Since I continue to work at Cancer Care Ontario on a part-time basis, I may return to the organization on a full time basis after graduation; or find employment in another public sector organization in Toronto. Alternatively, I may take a year off to pursue a public policy internship or social entrepreneurship in India. In the long term, I see myself completing a Masters in Public Policy and/or a Masters in Business Administration. I think one of the key things is to not stress about committing to what you will do after graduation. Continue to explore and gain different experiences!
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
My first year at UTSC focused on taking the key courses for the sciences, while also exploring out of the sciences to learn more about management and economics. Outside of academics, I joined clubs and began to socialize and meet new people. I also opted out of the co-op program. By second year, I was more used to university life and had developed good study habits. I continued to take more courses in the sciences and maintain involvement on campus. This was also the year I took courses in the social sciences and started volunteering off campus. As I broadened my exposure, I began to reflect and critically think about my interests and future aspirations. At the end of second year, I made a big change and decided to pursue a Public Policy major and opt back into the co-op program. I was initially hesitant to do so because I didn't know what to expect but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. I was able to fully immerse myself into the coursework and gain a better understanding of which direction I wanted to head in. The first half of my third year was spent juggling public policy and science coursework, clubs, volunteering, a part-time job and seeking a co-op placement. The second half was spent at my co-op placement: Cancer Care Ontario. Now being in my fourth year, I recently decided to do another program change and switch from my second Human Biology major to a double minor in Political Science and Biology. The focus of this year has been completing my program requirements and trying to squeeze in as many interesting courses as I can. I also look forward to completing an undergraduate thesis in innovation policy. I am also continuing my involvement with clubs and a part-time position at Cancer Care Ontario. While I look forward to graduating this June, I am also trying to make the most of the last few months of my undergraduate experience. Although my academic journey has had a lot of ups and down, it has been a great memorable experience. The impact it has had on my personal and professional growth is tremendous!

Amina Shabeen

Major: Psychology
Minors: Biology & Anthropology

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
I chose the three programs to explore my interest in pursuing a career in the health care field from varying perspectives and disciplines.
 

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
As much as I enjoyed studying psychology and biology due to course contents that captured my interest, I want to make a special mention of my anthropology minor in socio-cultural anthropology stream which really helped me see the bigger picture. As this program is very multi-disciplinary in nature, I was able to think more critically and become more culturally sensitive-which is essential when pursuing a career in the health care field. I also managed to refine my writing skills and, most importantly, learned to articulate myself more effectively as a result of engagement in dialogues within classes and through various programs and seminars offered by the faculty. The small class sizes and very engaging faculty has enhanced my undergraduate career overall.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

 
For anthropology courses, I would highly encourage speaking to professors about your initial ideas for papers and assignments. They do an excellent job of guiding your thoughts which will make the process a little less scary and more enjoyable. I would also recommend making a conscious effort to skim through the readings before class if not read them entirely. For biology courses, it is very important to give yourself enough time to familiarize with the course content. It is okay to fall a bit behind, but it is critical to realize that cramming just doesn't work for many upper year courses. Therefore, even if you fall behind, pace yourself and make a schedule that works for you to get through the material well before the exams.  For psychology courses, information is easy to understand but there is a LOT of content so be sure to make/ access good quality chapter and lecture notes that can be reviewed shortly before the exams.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 
I plan on pursuing a career in Medicine or Clinical Psychology.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
In my first year, like most undergraduate students, I did not have much idea of what program I wanted to choose. I went ahead and did the first year life science courses (biology, chemistry, psychology) and some interesting electives. At the end of my first year, I decided to major in Psychology and Neuroscience. After my second year, I realized I wanted to take courses where I can do more writing and socio-cultural anthropology really interested me so I decided to scale my psychology major down to a minor to make space for an anthropology minor. As a student who is heavily involved on and off campus, I found the course load to be very intense. After my third year, I decided to do another minor program switch and scale psychology back up to a major, do a minor in biology (since I almost finished it while working towards Neuroscience major) and kept the anthropology minor. I always stuck with courses I enjoyed and kept checking back to see which program would these courses count towards. Therefore, I am finishing my degree without doing any extra courses than required for completion of a degree.