Last week, the Erindale Biology Society (EBS) and the Erindale Chemical and Physical Sciences Society (ECPS) collaborated on a “Meet the Grad Students” event which provided undergraduate students with the opportunity to network with post graduate alumni within fields such as biology, chemistry, medicine, physics, and bioinformatics.

Students with any interest in these respective fields were encouraged to attend, socialize, and enjoy food and fun raffle games. Many of the graduate students are currently undertaking research for their Ph.D. theses or undergoing post-graduate education, either in pursuit of a Master’s or Medical Degree.

According to Harsimran Garcha, the president of the ECPS and fourth-year studying biology and chemistry for health sciences, the purpose of the event was to facilitate discussion between undergrad and graduate students. In particular, she explains that the event can help students “learn about the process, when to apply, and how to apply [to graduate institutions].”

This is the first event of its kind that the societies have run. However, Garcha explained that “it was partially derived from our Meet the Profs Night.” Meet the Profs Night, which is typically held in the winter semester, provides prospective students with the ability to discover new research opportunities. Garcha explained that at Meet the Profs Night “Professors give summaries on what they do and it is overall a good way for students to find research.”

Throughout the event, graduate students generously shared advice for endeavors both during and after an undergraduate degree. Connor Fitzpatrick, a graduate student in the ecology and evolution stream who studies the interaction between flora and fauna, explained to attendees the turbulent journey of his Ph.D. thesis and what it entailed. “My thesis was like a mosaic,” Fitzpatrick stated. “Some people possess very linear theses that are straightforward; mine was much more complex.” After starting off by analyzing the specific interactions between plants and soil and the effects they have on each other, Fitzpatrick now works with bacteria and microorganisms.

After realizing that he wanted to do research, Fitzpatrick contacted prospective Ph.D. advisors. “Often, this can be a five or six-year commitment. It’s kind of like dating,” he remarked.

Similar stories resonated across the majority of the speakers invited to the event, where ambitions and aspirations changed over time.

Circles of undergrad students surrounded many of the speakers, absorbing wisdom and anecdotal advice. Nirlap Brar, a third-year psychology specialist at UTM, found the event distinguishable from similar networking events. The event fostered representation across a range of laboratories and professional institutions, and Brar considered the diverse group of speakers enriching, with the observation that “usually you only get a specific demographic of people at these kinds of networking events.”

Reflecting on some memorable moments of the event, Brar noted that general life experience was provided in equal measure to academic advice and enjoyed the inviting nature of the night. “People spoke about developing experience and applying skills. Overall, [the event] was extremely helpful. It was more like networking instead of a panel discussion. It was much more interactive, and I feel like the people are more open and honest.”

The graduates attending the event ranged from individuals studying biochemistry, biological physics, and bioinformatics, to a first-year medical student from University of Toronto. Pawandeep Sandhu, a first-year medical student from U of T, juggles his time between focusing on his medical studies while also playing on the UTM men’s varsity soccer team.

Ernest Prack and Fioralba Taullaj, two Ph.D. students studying chemistry, attended the event alongside Andrew Broomfield, a master’s student studying inorganic chemistry. All three conduct their research in Dr. Ulrich Fekl’s laboratory. Broomfield, in particular, looks at the “reactivity of adamantine, the smallest subunit of a diamond, with transition metals for drug design, catalysts, and materials applications.” In terms of future career goals, Broomfield is deciding between pursuing a Ph.D. and entering the industry or government sector after he completes his master’s degree.

Regarding his interest in chemistry, Broomfield explained that “a lot of fundamental chemistry comes out of inorganic labs, and often they’re at the forefront of practical science in general.” He explained that the chemistry he is involved in revolves around testing to see if it is practically possible to observe the same reactivity, that they see predicted computationally, in real world conditions.

“Any new reactivity that we are able to achieve is often extremely exciting,” Broomfield said. “In addition, most of the work we do is air and water sensitive, and you become very highly skilled in the ‘hand-on’ aspects of chemistry, which is often what I find is the most enjoyable.”

During his undergraduate experience, Broomfield felt that each semester differed, in terms of work load and his expectations.

“I think that the best advice that I could give to people is that not doing well one semester won’t ruin your life, or even your GPA. If you take positive actions, both in terms of setting realistic goals, and attaining good general health then you’ll be much better in the long run,” Broomfield remarked.

For Broomfield, the event was a “great experience” because he enjoyed talking and providing advice to the undergraduate students who were interested in research and professional school so that they are “better equipped to decide what they would like to do in the future and explore all the options available to them.”

Alex Orazietti, a fifth-year doctoral studies student in biochemistry working in Dr. Scott Prosser’s lab, agreed with Broomfield. “It’s invigorating to meet students who retain a passion for their interests,” Orazietti said.

“It was great to be able to speak to students on [a one-on-one] fashion with no time constraints,” Broomfield noted. “Most of my contact with undergrads usually ends up being through TAing, which really doesn’t allow for much personal interaction.”

When asked about why he believes it is important to speak to undergraduate students about future career paths, Orazietti said that graduate students can provide undergrads with a glimpse into the variety of careers available to them catered towards the sciences.

“I believe it’s important to foster communication between the graduate community and the undergraduate one,” Orazietti explained. “I think most undergraduates in the sciences come in with the idea that they can pursue science with an eye towards joining a professional school such as medicine, dentistry, or pharmacy, or towards pursuing a career as an academic. This is a disservice to the wide array of careers related to the health sciences and the biotechnology industries.”

Broomfield shares much of the same perspective on the impact of the event. “I think it both inspires and informs undergrads about the options available, and that they can be flexible in their life path. Some students that I talked to didn’t even know inorganic chemistry was a field of study,” he said. “I think that many students end up fixated on one career path, so much so, that if that falls through they end up lost. Not everyone can be a medical doctor, so it’s always good to at least be aware that other options exist, even if those options aren’t in academia. Who knows, someone may not even be aware that their dream job exists.”