Molecular Biology & Biotechnology: Student Testimonials

Sara Baig

Specialist: Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Co-op

What factors contributed to you choosing this program?  
 
Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a doctor. I did everything I could to enable myself to achieve this goal. Prior to entering university, after much research on various life sciences programs across Toronto Universities (majors and minors); I choose this program because its specifications would allow me to stand out the most amongst other applicants for future graduate studies. This specialist program was going to offer me a deep understanding of biology and by looking at its mandatory upper year course requirements beforehand, I knew it would make me an overall well rounded applicant for medical school, especially with multidisciplinary courses such as Human Physiology, Biochemistry, Statistics, Physics and Microbiology. The admissions office and UTSC Ambassador’s were also extremely helpful when it came to addressing any questions or concerns that I had, with the most reassuring discussions.
 
Can you describe this program? What is it actually like?
 
Being a part of this program has taught me how to leverage my strengths as a leader, implement medical knowledge in a variety of ways, and apply critical-thinking skills to actual workplace challenges. The highlights of this program are the two competitive co-op placements offered within your undergraduate study period. There is a whole department of networking and career development professionals to guide your way in finding phenomenal placements, within hospitals, government institutions and businesses. The Co-op program even offers mandatory workshops, seminars and one-on-one mock resume/cover letter/interview sessions to prepare you for job hunting. This academically rigorous program shaped my passion for research and laid the foundation for what interests me the most for my graduate prospects.
 
Another fantastic thing about this program is that throughout my four years, many of my core courses have overlapped with the students majoring in general biology or chemistry.  Therefore, the class sizes are fairly large, but this also means that you get to know your fellow classmates well. The curriculum here is diverse yet rigorous (there are definitely some comprehensive and difficult courses but the peer-network and academic resources available as aid are endless). The classes cover both the foundations of medicine and more specialized areas of study that help guide you in choosing a suitable career paths.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program?
 
1) Increase your experiences. A great aspect of UTSC student life is integrated extracurricular activities into your studies. Although every university promises that there will always be a club for something that suits you. At UTSC opportunities with your choice of interests, are established with work-study programs, peer mentor workshops and volunteer positions. This is key in how you can convert your passions into something beneficial while still maintaining all the responsibilities as a student at one of Canada’s largest and academically advanced universities. Getting involved in extracurricular activities is an excellent way to get to know diverse body of students and world renowned faculty outside of your classroom. Take advantage of the many resources on campus.
 
2) Get to know people. Networking at conferences/ extra seminars / school fairs will allow you to integrate into the professional world seamlessly. Starting from first year, set yourself up to meet new individuals, attend departmental meet and greets or take workshops to develop social skills. They will help you tremendously towards the end of your degree by making you more confident in seeking graduate roles. Take opportunities to talk to professionals or your professors, for example, they often have positions available such as a teaching assistant. Remember these are the individuals you will be submitting your resumes to for professional positions. Why not start building the foundations now?
 
3) Manage YOUR time. Plan your course load for semesters ahead of time. If you plan to take 5 courses per semester for your entire undergraduate career, fantastic, use summer to gain research experience or full time employment for student loans. However, a lot of students find it more manageable to take a 4/4/2 summer course load to manage studies better with best possible grade yet still accommodate an invaluable work-study position within their schedules at UTSC.
What has your academic journey been like as you progress toward graduation?
Within my program the first academic year focused on the basics of biology, chemistry, and physics, where strong grade 12 knowledge of these subjects will allow you to excel academically. First year is also the time to socialize and explore what UTSC has to offer, in terms of interesting clubs, athletics and other extracurricular such as volunteer positions. These activities will allow ease your transition from high school to university. In second year, students are expected to delve into more details within the biology field with courses such as organic chemistry, cell and system biology, and molecular biology laboratory. It is also expected that you will dedicate a few solid hours for co-op online job application. Third year is where you will decide what your specialized field of interest is by selecting courses very specific in their respective field. These include: Genetics, Immunology, Human Development and many more.  Fourth year is all about focusing on finishing your degree requirements along with professional studies prerequisites. You are going to find yourself juggling a lot of very important commitments, along with trying to achieve highest grade possible. Remember, your upper years are what most professional and graduate school take into account.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 
Molecular Biology and Biotechnology allows you to tap into the growing world of scientific research but also makes you a great candidate for further studies for many streams of biology. Upon graduation, you have a strong chance at securing employment with an additional 1-2 year lab technician course from a college. Furthermore, you can pursue a Masters within a clinical or research related field at one of the many graduate programs offered within Uof T or other schools. Last but not least, in order to apply to professional school, like Medical School, you will be required to write a MCAT and submit applications. It’s always important to keep your options open, for example, even though I will be writing my MCAT this year, I also plan to write the GRE, which is a broad assessment designed for graduate and business schools to test your critical thinking, analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills — all skills developed over the course of many years as an undergraduate.

Ellie Kubisz

Specialist: Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Co-op

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

In high school, I realized the importance of being able to attain real-world work experience in addition to coursework. At U of T Scarborough, the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology program (MBBT) was the only Biology co-op program offered, and that is why I chose it.

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

The program's name is highly misleading and should be reverted back to the old name of "Cell and Molecular Biology". I say this because as a third-year student, there is no actual coursework component of "Biotechnology" as indicated by the program title, and it is only incorporated should a student seek a co-op work term in the biotechnology industry. That being said, the coursework for this program is intensive as it covers the broad field of biology from the molecular and sub-molecular level such as Biochemistry all the way to systems biology, such as in Animal Physiology and Genetics. This sets up students with a broad yet informative basis for successfully completing a variety of co-op terms in biological research, pharmaceutical industries, vaccine development companies, and much more.

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

1) Become excellent at time management There will be many semesters when students will be required to complete 3 or 4 biology courses at a time, leaving little room for other activities should procrastination take over. Learning to balance readings, prioritize studying, and study efficiently are invaluable for allowing students to academically succeed and partake in extracurricular activities.
2) Be involved on campus Simply doing courses means nothing to an employer as part of the co-op program. Students who do not get involved through campus - either through clubs, volunteering, work-study, etc. - simply cannot expect to succeed. There are hundreds of amazing opportunities at UTSC where students can integrate themselves into our wonderful community. Take advantage!
3) Network - Everyone has something to share, and there are many people on campus such as older students and staff members who would love to give their advice. Networking and making meaningful connections allows students to get a better sense of what upper years and the world beyond will be like, and establishes a sense of community and belonging on campus.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 

After my degree, I plan to enroll in a graduate field that will lead me to a job where I can combine my interpersonal skills with my science background.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
Academically, I have felt like my program has cultivated my study and time management skills because of the intensity of this specialist program. While this was a natural progression, I did not feel strongly about my academic journey between first, second, and third year other than to say that I realize academic success is only a small facet of your success at University and is complimented by so much more: mental health, your growth as an individual, and the connections you make with others.

Melinda Le

Specialist:  Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

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

I originally entered into this program as a co-op student and that was the deciding factor for me. Co-op is a great opportunity to gain experience in the work field to help you decide what you want to endeavor. I also chose Molecular Biology and Biotechnology because my other options for a co-op program was either Neuroscience or Psychology, both of which I did not want to go into.

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

The courses in this program are great for, but not limited to, those wanting to go into research. As with all other courses, they require you to pay attention and understand all concepts because the courses do go into a lot of detail regarding processes that take place in the biological world. I eventually dropped out of co-op (but kept the specialist program) for personal reasons. I was essentially not happy with where my education was headed and I wanted to take things at my own pace.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

There aren't any tips that I can give that are specific for this program. But what I will say is this: it's okay to not know what you want and it's okay to take your time. I think where we lose the motivation and the strive to continuously learn and improve is when we believe that we must follow the timeline that's socially acceptable (4 years of undergrad) or when we think we won't go anywhere because we don't have our lives mapped out. I've learned to take my time, if I have to take an extra year or two, then I'll do it. I'd rather that than to rush into something that - as cheesy as this sounds- my heart isn't fully invested in. I want to come to lectures every day and want to be there. I want to be able to love what I learn. So, to people out there getting started, or wanting to change their programs, if you're not satisfied, keep looking. If you have to look a little longer than everyone else, keep looking.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

I am still undecided with what I want to do with my degree. There's still so much to learn and discover that it's difficult for me to choose one career, for now. But the purpose I want to fulfill is to be able to help people.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
When I started in first year, I struggled a bit with getting used to the routine of university. It's a huge jump from high school, presenting us with different challenges. In first year I took a full course load and it was manageable for me. By the time I got to second year, five courses were too heavy for me so I spaced out my courses and took summer school as well. It was probably one of the best decisions I made. I had wanted to take five courses because I wanted to stick to the plan that was laid out for me on the UTSC website. But, I've learned that it is okay not to do what everyone else is doing; if no one else is on the same path as you, it does not mean that you're on the wrong path. Being by yourself is scary, but you're never truly alone. I'm currently in my second semester of third year. First semester of third year was when I finally went through with my decision to drop out of co-op. It took me a while to come up with the courage to do that because once you're out of co-op, it's final. I know what a great opportunity co-op is and how great it would look on my resume one day, but in my personal journey, I found that I wasn't heading in the direction I wanted to be in and like I said before, I wanted to be able to take my own time. I wasn't happy with where I was but once I finally dropped out, I felt lighter and, even though I can't see where I'm heading, I feel like this may be a step in the right direction for me. You never know what the right decision is until you look back on it one day with the knowledge of hindsight. So, I'm just taking it one step at a time at my own pace.

 

Aliya Mirza

Specialist: Molecular Biology and Biotechnology
 

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

Interest. I was initially in the human biology program. I love physiology and still do. However, I got interested in cell biology by Dr. Monica Sours. I got interested in biological chemistry in my third year, but it was too late to change my program.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 

Fun and challenging. And yes, biology courses do have a bit of memorization, as you have to know some concepts. Some courses like ecology, anatomy require a lot of memorization which I did not like. If you're looking for less memorization courses, take the ones with labs (c-levels).

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

Don't cram. Think. Pray.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

Hmm research<3, while studying medicine and teaching?

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

First year was just discovering how, where, who and time management. Most courses were a repeat of high school for me. Time management was hard, and also adjusting to a new environment (labs, office hours, discovering where to get help like the chem aid centre etc.).  I did not like all the memorization based courses like ecology etc., which I had to take in my second year. I don't see how they were related to my program! And no critical thinking evolved. I loved all my labs (chemistry, anatomy, bioorganic chemistry, genetics, microbiology etc.); however, sometimes I wished the labs were connected to the lectures. Office hours are really helpful if you're confused about something. If you go to the exam room with a confused mind, you won't do well. Also it's always good to go to office hours before handing in your assignments/lab reports. Even if you know everything, you'll learn something new.  Basically ask questons...it will make a big difference. My third and fourth year courses were fun, especially fourth year courses. Because the class was smaller and you got to discuss and actually learn something in class (I took four D level courses). Overall, I think that these four years went by pretty well. I have learnt many things and met many people. I thank all my supportive professors and TAs who taught me and helped me. And I also thank those people who did not help at all, as I learnt to teach myself and be independent. After these four years, you should know how to self-discipline yourself. And that is the key to hard work, and if you work hard, God will open the doors of success for you.

Non program related :
It doesn't matter what program you choose, as long as you're interested and willing to learn, you'll be fine.
This program does allow you to get into the work field, but if you want to continue and go to grad school, then you must: Volunteer, research and basically show that you are actually active in the field. This is why interest is important :)