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Neuroscience graduate strikes perfect balance in and out of class

Photo of: Daniel Derkach in front of trees on campus

Daniel Derkach has been accepted to a master’s degree program with Dr. Cindi Morshead, a neurobiologist in the Institute of Medical Science at U of T. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Things are going very well for St. Michael’s College graduate Daniel Derkach right now. Aside from receiving his bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and cell & molecular biology this week, he’s just been accepted to a master’s degree program with Dr. Cindi Morshead, a neurobiologist in the Institute of Medical Science at U of T.

He’s also been offered a spot as a featured speaker next year with Jack.org, an organization that brings youth leaders into high schools across Canada, to help change how students think about mental health.

Leading Global Brigades excursion to Honduras

If that isn’t enough, Derkach is also getting ready to lead an excursion to Honduras with the U of T chapter of Global Brigades. The international student-volunteer organization empowers under-resourced communities in the Global South to develop their own means of meeting their health and economic needs. His involvement with Global Brigades is Derkach’s most-cherished extra-curricular experience of his undergraduate years.

“I’ve made my closest friends over the past two years through Global Brigades,” said Derkach. “It’s the organization I’m closest to right now, with so many students sharing the same interest in global health.”

Derkach’s academic focus has been the brain, an interest that began early in his undergraduate career, with a course on neuroscience in his second year. He knew immediately that it would be the area in which he would specialize, with a particular interest on neural stem cells and regeneration.

He has long wanted to volunteer in Morshead’s lab, but his first chance to work with her came with an independent research project this past year. By that time, Derkach had completed a volunteer clinical research assistant position at the Hospital for Sick Children, and spent a summer at the University of Konstanz in Germany, investigating the neurobiology of fruit fly larvae.

“Amazing chance to do some new and relevant research”

“Working in the lab in Germany was a real eyeopener for me,” Derkach said. “It was an amazing chance to do some new and relevant research.”

Derkach said although he didn’t join Global Brigades until halfway through his undergraduate years he began to appreciate his time at U of T much more once he began to get involved beyond his studies. He even found a way to do something to benefit his fellow undergraduate life sciences students by cofounding the Profiling Opportunities Project in the Department of Cell & Systems Biology. The project showcased biology-related career possibilities using student-made videos that profile people working in diverse jobs, emphasizing the fact there are more options after graduation than just medical school or research.

Derkach complemented his on-campus activities with volunteer work at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, assisting patients with special needs in therapeutic recreation and swimming programs.

While Derkach was recognized for his many volunteer contributions with a Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award from the University of Toronto Alumni Association, he believes he got as much back from his extracurricular work as he put in.

“U of T over-prepared me for the future,” he said. “Once I began to get involved with things, I learned how to be more organized and manage my time better. I stopped throwing my time away.”