Updated: Jul 28, 2020
By Flora Zhiqi Wang
Life Sciences is a very broad discipline. There are at least 20 Life Science programs under U of T, not to mention the different subfields under each subject area. Therefore, for the most of us, the question is not just about choosing our Program of Study (POSts), but about what to focus on after we’ve chosen our POSts, and how our focuses would lead us to different career options after graduation. Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful throughout the past three years of my undergrad experience:
Take Courses from Different Disciplines
Don’t worry if you don’t have space to do an extra minor, you can still take or audit courses from other subject fields! You never know what a course or a field is really about until you talk to professors and take a closer look at the course material. There are so many cases where people just decided to take a course out of curiosity and ended up falling in love with the subject. Also, if you’re doing a Specialist, I would highly encourage that you take an additional Major or Minor! There are so many fascinating things outside of your field, and you never know when you might be able to combine two big concepts from different fields into something real cool!
Go to Student Union Events, Talk to Upper Years and Sign Up for Mentorship Programs!
Many student unions in the Collaborative Life Sciences hold Lunch & Learns where they invite faculty to talk about their research, and how they got to where they are today. Most student unions also hold socials where you can get to know people. Additionally, student unions such as the Human Biology Student Union (HBSU), Medical Sciences Student Union (MSSU), Cell & Systems Biology Student Union (CSBSU), Molecular Genetics Student Union (MGYSU), Biochemistry Undergraduate Student Society (BUSS), Pharmacology Toxicology Students’ Association (PTSA), Student Society for Stem Cell Research (SSSCR), etc. also have their own mentorship programs. So sign up to be a mentee and talk to people in the field if you’re curious in learning more about what they study!
Attend Talks, Seminars & Conferences
Many of the second year life science program requirements appear really similar, and some are even identical. Therefore, in second year, it’s really hard to tell how one program is actually different from another.
So what can you do? Well, talk to upper years, and attend talks and seminars given by profs or researchers from the faculties that you’re interested in! Get a better idea of what a specific field focuses on by learning from the insiders! Here’s a really useful site that informs you about all the upcoming talks and seminars in U of T: http://cettesemaine.utoronto.ca/
Many student unions such as Student Society for Stem Cell Research (SSSCR), Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology Student Union (LMPSU), etc. also hold annual conferences which invite a lot of different experts in the field!
Engage Yourself in Research!
If you’re interested in graduate school, there is no better way to find out whether you like research than engaging yourself in actual research! I have friends who didn’t really enjoy research in Biochemistry but loved research in Chemistry. As similar as some of these programs may sound, their research focuses can be very different! So the best way is to find out through experience. Research is also a good way to get reference letters, regardless of whether your ultimate goal is grad school, med school, pharmacy school or other professional schools!
The Career Aspect
Now that you’ve gotten a better idea of what you’re interested in, it’s always good to start exploring your options earlier than later! Attend career fairs, life science symposiums, talk to people on U of T Ten Thousand Coffees, and get a LinkedIn account!
U of T Ten Thousand Coffers is a good place for you to practice virtual networking and meet people from the other U of T campuses. By talking to people, you also get the opportunity to learn from others and get a better idea of the options that are out there. LinkedIn is also a good place for you to connect with people, figure out what the jobs that you’re interested in actually entail, and what qualifications are needed for a specific job. Moreover, the Career Learning Network (CLNx) also provides workshops and sessions that will better prepare you for your career goals.
There is no secret formula to identifying one’s passion or interest, and everyone’s experience will be different. But I hope the above sources will help you navigate your life science journeys in one way or another!