Evolutionary Anthropology: Student Testimonials

Irfan A. Hakim

Majors: Health Studies - Population Health (HBSc); Evolutionary Anthropology (HBSc)

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

It has been a dream of mine to be part of Health and Health studies since the start of university and my introduction to its several branches. I did everything I could to enable myself to achieve this goal; including expanding the holistic view to the world through the study of Anthropology. I had enrolled in University of Toronto focused on doing Anthropology and that lens alone. However, by taking several electives in the first year, I was able to understand that Health Studies was the one true program for me; as it focuses on numerous different fields. In order to ensure that I would be able to pursue this field, both during my undergrad and post-grad, I got help from the Academic Advising & Career Centre (AA&CC) to help me understand all the requirements that I needed to meet and courses that I needed to take to graduate, along with future careers and which other major would complement my program of choice. I also sought help from the program advisor both for both the Health Studies and Anthropology program advisor Janet Roopnarinesingh who told me I could do both the majors at the same time and helped me determine my courses for the next three years of my undergrad.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
The Health Studies program promotes an understanding of health across a spectrum of academic perspectives ranging from the clinical and biological health sciences, which I am a part of, to social science and humanistic ways of knowing, another aspect of Health Studies which is compulsory for us to learn and understand. The Anthropology program offers insight into the socio-cultural and evolutionary perspectives, along with some really fascinating courses, such as Advanced Topics In Human Osteology (ANTC48), that are just fun to take. These programs are a perfect blend of the hard-core science, that might be required in future studies which one may want to pursue, and the critical social science health perspectives, which give an insight into the ongoing challenges presented by the changing societal values and political arrangements; some of which also an everyday application value to it. Along with some really interesting content, the Health Studies and Anthropology Programs also have some of the best, most engaging, and enthusiastic professors to offer. Honestly this makes coming to class that much more fun. They will help guide you to your end goal for your undergrad and along the way provide insight into future opportunities, such as networking and skill-building both in and out of class. Both programs offer co-op opportunities that are just as fascinating as the regular program but give you the chance to also explore the practicum aspect. Though I have personally never experienced it myself I leave to you, the future, to explore it.

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

1) Be proactive: One of the easiest ways to succeed during your undergrad is by building the best resume that you can. This involves joining as many clubs and taking on as many volunteer opportunities as you can, while giving enough time to your studies. For those who have to follow a tight budget, you can also apply for work-study jobs each semester through the Career Learning Network (CLN); just talk to AA&CC to understand how to do that. Extracurricular activities are one of the best ways to better understand and apply your studies and experiences to the daily life as well as help others succeed. It is also an excellent way to expand your network and get to know your campus, and faculty, since almost all of these extracurricular activities make you interact with professors in one way or another.
2) Use all facilities UofT has to offer: UTSC specifically has a ton of great opportunities available on campus. Besides engaging with students through clubs and Departmental Student Associations (DSAs), which offer monthly events. You can access all the programs that the gym at UTSC has to offer (TPASC and the Athletics & Recreation department). It really helps in de-stressing, by going on a monthly or weekly activity, as well as planning out your schedule. CLN, UTSC Library, and AA&CC will provide you with seminars and daily/weekly/monthly events that will help you to get to know people and expand your network. Having been part of and having used almost all of these facilities myself , has really helped me succeed so far. Plus, it is a nice way to integrate yourself into the UTSC community. Programs, such as the Partners in Leadership (PIL) which is an annual mentorship program, is another great thing you can join to build and expand your network and launch yourself into a great career later on. All these facilities are not however just exclusive to Health Studies and Anthropology and can be used by anyone.

What will you do with your degree after graduation?
My first year consisted of taking several electives and filling my breadth requirements. In doing so I was able to explore and find the perfect program that I was looking for. These first year courses were mainly applications of everything I had learned in high school but with more labs and a more proper introduction to how things would be at a university setting. My second year consisted of my favorite part of university so far, selecting courses specific to my program; there were a lot more options to choose from. This was also the time to decide which stream I wanted to go into; socio-cultural or biological stream. I ended up choosing the latter and enjoy all that it has to offer. Having cleared all of the breadth requirements at this point I focused on figuring out specifics for the next two years of courses that I would be taking that would help me in the future. In third year I was able to explore more specific courses in both the fields, such as Medical Anthropology and Health Research Methods, both of which have been critical for me so far in my academic life. Fourth year has all been about focusing on maintaining good grades and meeting degree requirements along with post-grad requirements. Publishing papers, doing post-grad school applications, and other work has been time consuming but not impossible to balance; good time management and having built connections is a great thing to have at this point. Most professors and faculty are also your biggest allies, along with your friends.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
The healthcare industry is one of today’s fastest growing and changing industries and so Health Studies students are in high demand. This combination of growth and change has helped to cause a surge in demand for healthcare professionals. Health studies can be further studied in both a Professional or Research Masters and at a Research exclusive PhD level. Since Health professionals are present ranging from community level (Home Health Aides) to global level (Global Health Manager), it truly depends on what you want to pursue. Depending on the program you want to apply for you could be asked to write a GRE (for some Epidemiology programs) or MCAT (for those who would like to do medicine with their Health Studies degree). Having developed key skills such as critical and analytical thinking, leadership, and communication skills during my undergrad, I feel confident with the post-grad programs I plan on pursuing. I plan on doing a Masters in Health Informatics offered within UofT or Global Health offered by McMaster university and then go on to join institutions at a hospital or government level.

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.