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Videos help students make the connections between their studies and their future

Photo of: Daniel Derkach, Melanie Ramnauth, Benjamin Tang, Abokor Abdulkarim, Amber Lim

Students Daniel Derkach, Melanie Ramnauth, Benjamin Tang, Abokor Abdulkarim and Amber Lim.

It’s not unusual for university students to work diligently toward their degrees without knowing how they can use their knowledge to earn a living. A group of Cell & Systems Biology students has set out to illustrate some options for them through the Profiling Opportunities Project, or POP, a STEP Forward initiative at the Faculty of Arts & Science.

POP showcases biology-related career possibilities using student-made videos that profile people working in diverse jobs. Ashley Bruce, an associate professor in the Department of Cell & Systems Biology, initiated this extracurricular project to help students unravel the mysteries of career options.

“I took a fairly straight trajectory in my own career, so I wanted this project driven by students, featuring questions they wanted answered,” Bruce said.

POP is funded by the Faculty’s STEP Forward program, which aims to help students make the connections between their current studies, their personal values and their future goals. The funding allowed Bruce to collaborate with Sree Nallamothu, an independent producer specializing in participatory media, to teach the POP students the skills they needed for the project.

“We wanted to help them tell the stories in a more sophisticated way,” Bruce said.

Through a competitive application process, Bruce selected five undergraduate students from various years to form the POP team: Abokor Abdulkarim, Daniel Derkach, Amber Lim, Melanie Ramnauth and Benjamin Tang. They have been working with Bruce and Nallamothu since September, developing a list of questions that they wanted to ask professionals and honing their video shooting and editing skills. As part of the process, they held a brainstorming session that drew 50 Cell & Systems Biology students who offered suggestions about the questions they wanted answered.

The results are an introductory video, Profiling the U of T student, and substantial video interviews with life sciences professionals: Peter Lin, a physician; Natalie Intven, a biomedical illustrator; and Manal Siddiqui, a manager at Clinical Trials Ontario. Clips from three of the interviews are currently available on the POP Facebook page, and the complete interviews will have their premiere at a public screening on April 1 at 6 p.m. in Room 432 of the Ramsay Wright Building. The POP team and three professionals featured in the videos will be on hand to discuss the project.

Bruce is delighted by the videos and hopes they become the seeds for a much larger effort, both within her department and across the faculty.

“I’ve applied to keep this going next year,” she said. “I’d like to make these videos as widely available as possible. My dream is to see it as a Faculty-wide initiative with mixed teams between departments.”

The team members are eager to see that POP makes an impact, because being part of the project certainly broadened their understanding of career possibilities.

“Before joining the team, I held this false belief that the only options available after graduation were medical school or research,” said Ramnauth, a second-year biology major. “However, through meeting individuals with various jobs in science, I have learned that my future is not limited to two paths and that the field of science is dynamic and ever-changing. Currently, I feel more at ease when I think of the future, and I am sure that I will find a career or even create one! that combines my passions.”

Lim, a first-year life sciences student, said being part of POP provided an unexpected benefit beyond the career insights.

“Being a part of the team created a really great support system for me and a warm community vibe,” Lim said.