Ryerson University biology student Melissa Iazzi was on a co-op placement at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto to learn more about cancer research when her sister lost her battle with the disease. That was when Ms. Iazzi's interest in helping find a cure became even more personal.
Interacting with specialist teams at Princess Margaret was a dream job that that combined her passion for fighting cancer with the strong foundation she had received in her biology classes at Ryerson. It gave her the opportunity to learn first-hand about new innovations to combat cancer and how patients respond to study drugs.
Ms. Iazzi's hands-on experience in a real-world setting was not unusual for a Ryerson science student. The Faculty of Science's philosophy is to combine structured approaches to teaching and learning, along with unique opportunities wherever possible to meet the specific needs and interests of individual students.
Dean of the faculty, Professor Imogen Coe, says the opportunities can be either traditional co-op placements like Ms. Iazzi's, or innovative programming such as RySciMatch, a non-credit course open to Ryerson undergraduate students who are interested in acquiring research experience.
"We recognize that different students will likely benefit from different approaches. We try to accommodate those different approaches by being flexible, creative and responsive."
Dr. Coe says Ryerson's Faculty of Science aims to empower students to build their own careers pathways, and she points out that a science degree can be the basis for a wide range of career opportunities.
"We provide plenty of hands-on experience, lots of lab work, experiential learning, job-shadowing and real-world problem-solving," she adds. "That means our students have a more realistic view of the world and are ready for work when they graduate."
Dr. Coe stresses that the faculty's strength is in its diversity of both students and approaches to learning. The faculty's philosophy to support students interested in science even before they start university is demonstrated by the assistance Dr. Joseph McPhee provided to Romina Noori, a grade 12 student at Cardinal Carter Catholic High School in Toronto who needed help with a science project to understand whether face washes marketed for acne-prone skin were actually capable of killing skin bacteria.
Dr. McPhee, a microbiologist and assistant professor in Ryerson's Department of Chemistry and Biology, supported Romina in her project and provided access to Ryerson laboratories at MaRS.
For Dr. McPhee, a champion of science outreach and an adviser with the Science Discovery Zone – an on-campus hub helping students to develop their science-related ideas and interests – encouraging high school students to follow careers in science is a natural extension of his position at Ryerson.
Promoting increased access by students at all levels to programming in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects is also a priority for Dr. Coe. In particular, she is a strong advocate for equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI), which includes encouraging and supporting the entry of under-represented and marginalized groups into STEM university programs and STEM careers.
"EDI in STEM is about everyone having an equal opportunity to achieve their potential. We must ensure that science is accessible. It's a human rights issue."
Dr. Coe believes that it's important to have people from a cross-section of society involved in and contributing to science. Diversity promotes innovation, creativity and problem-solving. Diversity is a strength for the Faculty of Science at Ryerson.
Pilot program gives students career insights
In 2016, a partnership initiative was agreed upon between Ryerson’s Yeates School of Graduate Studies, the Ryerson Career Centre and the Faculty of Science to design a faculty-based graduate career education series tailored to graduate programs.
The piloted program, Industry Insights and Navigating Networks (IINN), provides PhD students with insight into industry pathways and how to leverage their professional expertise to attract opportunities in both academic and non-academic careers.
Lead by Rebecca Dirnfeld, career education specialist for the Faculty of Science and Ryerson Career Centre, the pilot group is centred on 20 PhD students enrolled in Ryerson’s Biomedical Physics program. Participants learn how to curate and interpret labour market information and develop their value pitches in workshops incorporated alongside the curriculum, as well as participate in industry job shadows where they learn how to showcase the transferability and applicability of their expertise to networks in various related fields.
“IINN creates a clear bridge with industry and builds professional development skills and networks for our students,” says Ms. Dirnfeld. “The benefit for participants is exposure to diverse career paths available, expanding ties with industry and succeeding in building careers outside academia.”
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