Graduates Reflect on IMS Journey

Jun 18, 2021
Sarah Topa

Ahead of their virtual convocation ceremony on June 23, 2021, four IMS graduates share what has been the highlight of their time in graduate school, what they are doing next and their advice for incoming students. 

Aadil Ali, PhD

My greatest highlight of my time in the IMS was being able to present my work to Dr. Joel Cooper during my final PhD oral examination. Dr. Cooper performed the world's first successful lung transplant here in Toronto in 1983. He has left a legacy in lung transplant research and has served as a role model and inspiration for many of my own mentors. I was truly honoured to have him share some of his wisdom with me.

For now I will be working with my supervisor Dr. Marcelo Cypel and Dr. Shaf Keshavjee at the Toronto Lung Transplant program on translating my research project into clinical practice. An international multi-center clinical trial is currently underway. Another exciting project I am working on involves collaborating with a medical engineering company to develop an organ-specific preservation device based on my research. This will allow for the commercialization of my work and increase the accessibility of our preservation technology to the entire world. 

My advice for incoming IMS students is to find a topic that you genuinely enjoy before starting your degree. This can be difficult to do, but I think it is important. Completing a MSc or PhD is an incredible amount of work, and I think those who do best are the ones who leave the lab with a smile on their face.

Tahani Baakdhah, PhD

My PhD research focused on the biology of retinal stem cells and their role in replacing lost retinal cells as a means to curing blindness. We live in a beautiful world, full of vibrant colors, and being unable to see is hard. Through my and my colleagues' work, I hope to be able to help the visually impaired see the beauty of the world again.  

There are so many highlights from my time at the IMS - from being part of the IMS Magazine team as a photographer and journalist, to crocheting the IMS 50th Anniversary Scientific Day Keynote Speaker gift and winning the Sarah Al-Bader Memorial Award in 2019. These are all great memories that I will keep forever. 

After finishing my PhD, I joined Dr. Jeremy Sivak's lab as a postdoctoral research fellow. I will be using pluripotent stem cell to replace cells lost in glaucoma. During my PhD, I was lucky to explore and try different protocols to enrich the photoreceptors and RPE cell yields. These cells are the light sensing receptors that are commonly lost in patients who suffer from age related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. Now I want to dive deeper in the field of retinal regeneration and explore the mechanisms that lead to retinal cells loss, starting with the loss of retinal ganglion cells that happens in glaucoma. 

My advice to incoming IMS students is don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Believe in yourself as a researcher and a scientist and follow your curiosity. 

Jaryd Te, MSc

My research focused on a novel gene therapy technique for treating muscle denervation injury. Having played sports growing up, I've always been interested in how our muscles and bones allow us to move in such complex ways. It was extemely exciting to be at the forefront of basic science research techniques.

The greatest highlight of my time at the IMS was presenting my work to others and, in particular, defending my thesis. While I don't think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was in the minutes leading up to that Zoom call, I also remember thinking how incredible it was that graduate school had given me a wealth of knowledge to share with these esteemed scientists. 

My next goal is to apply to medical school. U of T and Toronto have afforded me so many great experiences and memories, and I hope to make more in the future in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. I’m also hoping to branch out into new fields. I want to synthesize my passion for science with my experience in graphic design into projects that make science more engaging and accessible to a wide audience.

One piece of advice I think all incoming students should have is to know when to take time for yourself. Sometimes we get so engrossed in our studies that we feel burned out or forget to enjoy the great opportunities we have students in a bustling metropolis like Toronto. 

Thenuka Thanabalasingam, MSc

My Master’s project focused on leveraging induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived pulmonary stem cells for tissue regeneration. While I did have an interest in iPSCs coming out of my undergraduate studies, my passion for the field really took off as I was diving deeper into my project and learning more about its nuances and complexities.  

Some of the most memorable moments from my time in IMS came from the extracurricular activities I was engaged in. I had the privilege of representing the students at St. Michael’s Hospital as an IMS Students Association Site Director. Working on meaningful initiatives, like the Bell Let’s Talk and Warm Hands Cold Streets, alongside such fun and collaborative individuals, was a great experience! 

I’m currently looking to grow professionally with work experiences, hopefully at the intersection of healthcare and data science. I’m really looking forward to applying the critical and creative thinking that we build in grad school towards different non-academic challenges.

The U of T graduate community is full of opportunities and networks that you may not have access to otherwise. My advice to incoming students is to take advantage of this and use this time to explore your personal and professional interests. It breaks up the monotony of having a singular focus throughout your thesis project. And, as I’m putting together my resume, I realize I’ve developed a lot of soft and transferable skills from these experiences.