Health Studies - Population Health: Student Testimonials

Saranyah Ravindran

Majors: Human Biology and Health Studies - Population Health

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

I have always had an interest in the sciences, specifically biology, but also had a strong passion for social sciences too. In high school, I was interested in applying to Health Sciences programs which would fuse both biological science courses with social science courses related to health and health care. However, I could not find Health Sciences within the University of Toronto, so I decided to pursue Life Sciences. When I accepted my admission to the University of Toronto Scarborough, I knew I was destined for the Human Biology major program. I chose this program because of my love for human, rather than plant or animal, biology, which would provide courses specific to human physiology and immunology that focused on the bodily systems that I was most interested in learning. Not only was the program a great doorway into a career in the medical field, but also provided courses that I genuinely could not wait to take. Although I was set on Human Biology, my choice for Population Health was not as clear. I was initially not aware of the Population Health program within Health Studies prior to my acceptance into the University of Toronto. It was upon reading through the course calendar that I noticed Population Health, and suddenly was intrigued. The courses offered within the Population Health program included the types of courses I was hoping to integrate with a biology major in a Health Sciences program. Courses such as Child Health and Development, Aging and the Life-Cycle as well as Introduction to Research Methodology courses were offered within the program and piqued my interest. By pursuing a Double Major in Human Biology and Population Health, I was able to create a program that not only satisfied my interest in biology but also provided me with the health studies courses I was hoping to get through a Health Sciences program to help me build a strong, multidisciplinary approach to health.

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

Both the Population Health and Human Biology program has taught me how to critically think about real-world health problems both through a microscopic lens of the human body and its systems as well as in a macroscopic lens through the interweaving social and biological determinants of human health. The program has provided me with opportunities to expand my knowledge base on the subject matter of health by offering a variety of courses in social determinants of health and health disparities that would not be covered in a core biology focused program. The highlights of these two programs are the research opportunities offered by a number of professors both in the biology and anthropology departments. Whether you are interested in working with animals or cells in a lab, ecology in the field, conducting focus groups of students or helping write a systematic review, there are boundless opportunities made available to students on campus. The Population Health program also offers co-op placements in various sectors of the health care industry, allowing students to gain further experience and apply practical skills in a competitive market. In both programs, as you progress to 3rd and 4th year, the class sizes get smaller and you begin to have more discussion and seminar based lectures that will allow you to better get to know your professors and class mates. While your first and second year classes will provide a lot of foundational information that is core to the program, it is in your 3rd and 4th year classes that you will have the opportunity to choose classes that pique your interest as classes become more topic specific and smaller in class size allowing you to get the most out of these courses. In both programs, many 4th year courses provide research opportunities for students within the class, allowing students to earn credits while building their research skills and experience that could aid in graduate school and job applications.

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

1) Use a planner or calendar! University can seem overwhelming due to the number of courses your taking, the number of reading material assigned and the tests, midterms and assignments that are scheduled throughout the semester, not to mention the extracurricular activities you hope to be involved in. The easiest way to keep on top of school work and organize your time is to use a planner, agenda or even the calendar app on your phone! SCSU hands out free agendas at the beginning of the school year each year, so you don’t even have to spend a penny on something that can make a huge difference in your ability to time-manage! The biggest difference, personally, between high school and university is the flexibility of my schedule, which has both pros and cons. University is great in that you are able to independently create your own schedule that works best for you, however this also means that you might find yourself with a lot of free time. By using a planner and managing you time wisely, you’ll be able to stay on track or even ahead, reducing the stress of school significantly.
2) Get to know your professors! Students tend to show up to class, listen and then leave once the lecture is done, which is sometimes the bare minimum. Our professors are here to not only teach us, but to engage us in the material. Professors offer office hours for students to ask questions and also engage in discussion. Even if you do not have any questions related to the course material, if you’re interested in the course topic itself, this is a great opportunity to get to know your professor and their academic and career journey. Professors can be a great resource to help you navigate your academic career, and at the end of the day, they’re here to help you succeed, so don’t be shy to approach them!
3) Take advantage of every opportunity you can. Many students enter university not knowing exactly what career they will pursue following their degree. Even if you do know what you want to do with your Bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t hurt to take advantage of every opportunity available to you. One of the most important things to figure out during university is discover not only what you like, but what you don’t like. By applying to a number of available positions within the university campus or even outside of campus, you will gain experience working in a number of different positions within different fields of interest. Constantly keep up to date with the Career Learning Network (CLN) where you can find a number of volunteer and job opportunities on and off campus. I have been using CLN to discover all of the great opportunities I have been fortunate to have throughout my academic career at UTSC, so don’t waste this amazing resource!

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

I plan to utilize my background in both human physiology and immunology through various courses within my Human Biology program as well as the knowledge I have gained through my research methodology, epidemiology and statistics courses within my Population Health program to pursue a Master in Public Health, specializing in Epidemiology. With both my Bachelor of Science degree and Master in Public Health degree, I hope to work as an applied epidemiologist within Health Canada to study the prevalence of autoimmune diseases, specifically allergies and allergic asthma, in children and help create policies and health promotion strategies based on epidemiological data collected to improve affected children’s quality of life.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

Within the Human Biology program, the first academic year focused on foundational biology and chemistry courses as well as psychology, calculus and statistics. A lot of the material in these courses covered many of the topics learned in senior high school science and mathematics courses, however the material delved in a little deeper and there were a few newer topics as well. The large number of first year human biology pre-requisite courses balanced well with the courses required for first year Population Health which was just two courses covering the foundations of health studies where we were introduced to the study of health and the various models and issues currently affecting health. During first year, I was able to socialize with many students, especially during biology and chemistry labs as well as tutorials for my other classes as the class size was much smaller and reminiscent of a high school class in terms of size. In second year, the courses offered to students in both major programs begin to focus on modules covered in the foundational courses of first year. For instance, in Human Biology, the courses required were predominantly within the biology department. Courses such as Animal Physiology, Cell and Molecular Biology, Evolution and Ecology were offered and provided students with a deeper understanding of each of the given topics which were briefly introduced in first year biology. In Population Health, courses such as Introduction to Research Methodology, Biological Determinants of Health and Infectious Disease were offered to provide much more insight into the interdisciplinary approach of health studies. Third year, for both programs, is the year where you have greater choice as to which courses you want to enroll in. It was the third year courses in both programs that I was most excited to take when I started my academic journey. In Human Biology, courses such as Human Physiology and Immunology piqued my interest and in Population Health courses such as Introduction to Epidemiology, Child Health and Development as well as Aging and the Life Cycle were the courses that I knew I was most passionate about. It is in both second year and third year that many students become much more involved in campus after becoming accustomed to university life and the workload. It is in these years that many students secure volunteer or work-study placements within the campus that might include lab positions or positions within a University department such as the Department of Student Life or Academic Advising and Career Centre to name a few. In third year and fourth year, the class sizes get substantially smaller which makes it much easier to have class discussion within lectures about topics you are passionate about. In fourth year, many students are finishing up the last few courses required for their program majors, degree requirements as well as a fourth year D-level course on a specific topic within the field. Students in fourth year are often balancing many extracurricular commitments including applications to graduate or professional schools as well as maintaining good grades.

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.

Nivetha Chandranrfan

Majors: Health Studies - Population Health (HBSc) and Human Biology

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

I have always been interested in the human body; especially in how internal and external factors impact our health. In high school, I researched about a variety of programs from various Ontario universities which focused on life sciences. I chose this program at the University of Toronto- Scarborough because it targets the biological and societal aspects of our world. This gives me an upper hand among other applicants for jobs and graduate studies because of the multidisciplinary knowledge I learn. This double major program provides a foundation in both the biological and healthcare concepts such as Microbiology, Human Physiology, Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases; thus making me a versatile candidate for diverse graduate programs like Medical School, Public Health and Biology. The UTSC admissions office, Get Started program and Academic Advising and Career Centre were the pillars assisting me in questions and concerns I had about my program.

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

This program allows me to look at our world in both a microscopic and macroscopic level, which makes me a better leader and problem-solver. By viewing the world in both levels, I can think critically and tackle real life situations such as antibiotic resistance or the Zika virus. Additionally, the curriculum of this program is interdisciplinary, stimulating and thorough. The classes cover a variety of topics, in which students get to specialize in, as they enter third and fourth year. Also, by integrating Human Biology and Health Studies, I have been able to practice and develop various skills for my assignments and assessments such as lab reports and essays. The resources on campus such as the writing center and professor’s office hours have been a true support system. In terms of research, the Human Biology and Health Studies program has allowed me to develop both quantitative and qualitative research skills; which have assisted me in becoming a research assistant at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and a Microbiology Lab assistant on campus. The Human Biology and Health Studies program brings together two academic departments; the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Anthropology. This provides myself and other students many opportunities to network with professors and professionals in both disciplines; which helps guide us in choosing a suitable career path.

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

1) Study smart and use the resources available. The most important recommendation would be to attend all lectures and tutorials. By going to class you are able to practice, learn and ask questions about concepts in class and ultimately do well in your courses. Attending office hours is advantageous too, because it gives you an opportunity to ask questions about topics discussed in class but also a chance to get to know your professors and teaching assistants. By participating in class, you will have the opportunity to meet fellow students who have similar interest and a chance to assist each other by forming study groups. Finally, doing readings will be extremely beneficial since it provides assistance with your exams and assignments; but also lets you further explore topics in the field of Human Biology or Health Studies that you wish to research or pursue a career in.

2) Get involved on and off campus. From the start of your undergraduate studies, get involved in clubs and departmental student associations (DSAs); which will be an opportunity to meet students who share similar interests. This will also give you an opportunity to meet professors and professionals in your discipline of studies, thus providing you more opportunities to network and gain experience. It is vital to get involved outside of campus too, by either joining or volunteering for an organization or getting a part-time job. Becoming involved both on and off campus makes you a more well-rounded individual and teaches you important skills such as time management.

3) Have fun! Enjoy your time at UTSC; it is a great community and a wonderful place to grow.

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

With my Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology and Health Studies – Population Health, I can work as a research assistant, Health care Centre administrator, Lab Technician and more. Personally after graduating with my undergraduate degree, I would like to pursue a Masters in Public Health, Health Sciences or Epidemiology. After completing my masters I would like to attend Medical School and practice Medicine. From pursuing a master’s degree and a doctor of medicine, I intend to focus my practice and research on the well-being of Canadian Aboriginal communities. In order to achieve my goals, I must complete the GRE and MCAT, which test my knowledge and skills such as analytical writing and reasoning, chemical and physical foundations, biological foundations, verbal reasoning and more which I have learned and developed during my undergraduate studies.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

In first year, the main objective is to set the foundation of biology, health studies, chemistry, statistics, calculus and physics. Many courses will review concepts that were studied in grade 12, but also add additional detail. For example, BIOA01 and BIOA02 cover evolutionary biology, cellular/molecular biology, ecology, genetics, animal/plant biology and physiology. On the other hand, the first year courses in health studies (HLTA02 & HLTA03) introduce the subject to students by exploring topics such as health policy, models of health, health economics and child development. First year is also the chance to get comfortable with the campus and to get involved through volunteer positions, athletics, clubs and more. In second year, courses begin to become more detailed in both the human biology and health studies program. Many students take courses such as Animal Physiology, Organic Chemistry, Infectious Diseases, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Health Research Methodology. These courses are the pillars to the respective field each student will specialize in their third and fourth year. Third year is the academic year; students get to choose specialized courses that interest them in their respective departments. In the Human Biology program third year courses include; Microbiology, Immunology, Human Physiology, Biochemistry, Genomics and more. In the Health studies program third year courses include; Epidemiology, Deconstructing Epidemics, Environment and Health, Child Health and Development and more. Second and third year is a great time to start volunteering or working with your professors or organizations which study topics that interest you. Finally, fourth year is similar to third year but you are required to complete fourth year level courses which may include independent research, seminars and more. Also during your undergraduate studies, it’s very important to make sure you finish all degree requirements, any prerequisite courses for your graduate studies and achieve good grades.