Leverage your Opportunities with the Research Focus

Jacob Varney manipulating a device that he constructed as part of his Research Focus project - it is 3D printed in pink plastic, and will serve as a sample holder with the goal of detecting volatile compounds for analysis from a sample of bodily fluids (e.g. saliva). The volatile compounds could then be used as a diagnostic tool.

Jacob and Catherine are both students in the Department of Biology with a strong interest in research. So when the Research Focus was created in the spring of 2018, they jumped at the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in the laboratory. Since then, they have been working with their supervisors uncovering scientific mysteries, that may shape the future! Curious to hear about their experience, the Faculty of Science asked them a few questions.

What are your aspirations, career-wise?

Jacob: My current main fields of interest are cell/molecular biology, medicinal chemistry, and plant physiology. I do hope to find work in a multidisciplinary field doing research in these domains.

Catherine: I would love to continue my studies at the graduate level. The academic career interests me immensely.

When did you hear about the Research Focus? What was your first impression?

C: In fact, I heard about this research component through an email from the Faculty of Science. We regularly receive such emails informing us about research opportunities, internships or jobs. Although I immediately felt it was a great way to do more research, I did not immediately make the decision to register. Initially I had other projects in mind, such as the PIRPC Research Fellowship, and I hesitated a long time before I started. Having said that, after taking the time to think about it while looking for more details about this program, I have not had the slightest doubt that this was the best option for me.

J: I heard about the Research Focus while taking my 2nd year courses at the university, and was immediately interested in getting a head start on research in a domain of my choice.

Did you have any concerns before changing programs?

C: In fact, I did not really realize, until recently, that it was a real program change. It is to tell you how smoothly this change has been. In a way, I can say that I stayed in my initial program in biology, but that I can now do more research and especially learn how to do research, which was missing in my career before.

J: I mainly had concerns over the time commitments around midterms and finals. However, Dr. Shuhendler and Dr. Findlay have both been extremely flexible given the undergraduate schedule, and extremely accommodating with the times I could be in the lab/allocated for assignments.

What made you decide to enrol in the Research Focus?

J: I had contacted a few professors about their research and was interested in finally having a chance to apply my knowledge and newly acquired skills from my studies. In addition, I wanted to learn more about research conducted in different fields, and would say that joining the research focus has helped in accomplishing this goal.

C: Of course, I was already very interested in research and I wanted to be better guided in my learning. With this focus in research, I have not only understood what research actually consists of, ie scientific practice, but I am also more sensitive to the theoretical dimension that must structure this practice. We rarely have the opportunity, in a regular program as we know it, to touch on this type of questioning, and it is especially this dimension that convinced me to choose the research component.

How did you choose your supervisor? What’s your area of research?

C: I was already studying in ecology and I did a research internship with this same supervisor in the summer of 2018. Initially, I chose this professor on the basis of his research interests that coincided with mine. I loved my experience with him so I just wanted to continue learning under his supervision.

J: I had Dr. Shuhendler for what was probably both the most difficult and interesting course I took at the university, introduction to biochemistry. He gave a lecture on the molecular workings of the drug Saquinavir, and I was amazed at the method with which it inhibited progression of the HIV virus. As such, I contacted him about the research he was conducting in the lab of molecular medicine, and he proposed a project which I was more than eager to accept.

What would you say to a student interested in taking part in this opportunity?

J: I would say that it is definitely an experience that should not be passed up. Ultimately getting to get a year’s head start on Honours studies, and gaining valuable knowledge in the field of research was a great opportunity. Furthermore, learning about experimental design and its intricacies from Dr. Findlay has been a more than worthwhile experience.

C: Jump. Do not be afraid to enroll in this program. Personally, I really benefited from this opportunity. It allowed me to deepen my thoughts on research, what can be done with it, how to conduct good research, as well as the resources and opportunities available to us. It's also a program that allowed me to have direct access to the teachers and the information I needed.

What was your highlight of this experience?

C: I cannot say that there was really a highlight. However, the whole process really pushed me further. I sincerely feel like I am somewhere else, to be much stronger in the field of research. Of course, I am still a novice and I still have a lot to learn, but I feel much more confident.

J: Dr. Shuhendler gave me the opportunity to learn about electrical engineering and coding for arduino during my time at the lab. Having gained a considerably useful new skill for prototyping medical devices was definitely a highlight in the experience.

Would you recommend it? Would you do it again?

J: The course which I enjoyed doing work for the most this semester was the Research Practicum. Dr. Shuhendler and the other students in the lab made it a great experience for me! I would certainly continue research in this field, as I have truly enjoyed doing so thus far.

C: Absolutely. I do not regret my choice for a second. This program allowed me to see how research works and to have a mentor who guides and helps me with my own work. I highly recommend it to any student looking for a career in research.

In addition, Dr. Scott Findlay, Coordinator of the Research Practicum, had the following advice for students and faculty mentors who are thinking about taking part in the Research Focus… “In Nike’s words: [just] do it!” When asked why, what the benefit to a student might be, Dr. Findlay responded that “students get an up-close-and-personal exposure to what scientific research is all about… students are better equipped to prosecute better quality research in the context of a fourth year Honours thesis and they are better equipped to critically evaluate the scientific research prosecuted by others.”

For more information, or to change your program, please contact:

Office of Undergraduate Programs
Gendron Hall
30 Marie Curie, room 172, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1N 6N5
Tel.: 613-562-5727

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