U of T Based Program Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists

Jan 14, 2020
Ciara Parsons

Allysia ChinThe Amgen Scholars Canada Program welcomes 15 undergraduate students each year to the University of Toronto to participate in a hands-on research experience. The program brings together students from across the country to help shape and inspire the ‘scientists of tomorrow’. 

McMaster student Allysia Chin was one of the students who participated in the 2019 cycle of the Amgen Scholars Canada Program. Working in Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab, Chin conducted research around glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer that originates in the brain. 

Chin spoke with Faculty of Medicine writer Ciara Parsons about her aspirations as a budding scientist, the need for effective science communications and the importance of female mentorship.

Before starting the Amgen Scholars Canada Program, where were you based and what were you studying? 

I am currently a fifth-year co-op student at McMaster University majoring in chemical biology. Originally, I’m from Toronto—more specifically Scarborough. So, joining Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab for the Amgen Program was really exciting because I was close to home. 

In addition to my aspirations to be a scientist, I’m very interested in global and public health and community outreach. Prior to starting the Amgen Scholars Canada Program in June, I went to Honduras where I assisted Honduran community members build public health infrastructure for families living in rural areas. I love participating in community outreach because it helps me bring what I am doing as a scientist and global citizen into perspective, whilst empowering communities and embracing togetherness.

What research are you currently working on in Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab? 

I am currently working alongside a very talented PhD student, Laura Smith, utilizing a 3D platform that she developed to model the invasive and aggressive behavior of a brain cancer called glioblastoma. Patients suffering from glioblastoma have very few treatment options and frequently experience secondary tumor recurrence—which is due to the invasiveness of the cancer cells. So, by developing a platform to study glioblastoma in a biologically relevant system, we hope to better elucidate the mechanisms driving its aggressive behavior. My portion of the project was about synthesizing and characterizing the components that make up the 3D model and conducting biological assays. 

Can you describe the mentorship you have received from Professor Molly Shoichet as a supervisor? What have you learned from her? 

Professor Shoichet has been a phenomenal mentor. She’s a very established and successful researcher, and it’s very inspiring—especially as a woman in a male-dominated space. I’ve learned from her that it’s important to be excited about science and to share how awesome it can be. She’s taught me that communicating about science can reach far beyond a lecture hall or lab.  

Why did you want to get involved with the Amgen Scholars Canada Program? What was something you were excited about? 

I wanted to become involved with the program because I viewed it as the biggest asset I could achieve in helping me gain the essential skills and attributes of a successful researcher. In addition to the skills I knew I would gain from being in this program, I was really excited about being able to communicate about science. Often times we get accustomed to communicating science to a very niche audience and forget about the big picture. The Amgen Scholars Canada Program presented so many opportunities to talk to folks from every type of academic background—instilling that you never forget the bigger picture of your project and the major contribution you’re making to science and education overall. 

What does it mean to you to be part of the Amgen Scholars Canada Program? How has this opportunity shaped you?

Being a part of the Amgen Scholars Canada Program was so much more than being at the forefront of cutting-edge science. I am now proud to belong to a community that represents inclusivity, learning and collaboration. There were so many outstanding people I had the opportunity to interact with and learn from. And fortunate enough for me, these interactive learning experiences have shaped me into a more wholistic scientist. I now understand the importance of connecting with people at all levels of education, teaching and learning, and how doing so can have a positive impact on science. 

What is next for you? 

Up next, I’m going back to McMaster for my last semester of undergrad before graduating in Spring 2020. After graduation, I plan on taking some time to travel and continue pursuing community outreach initiatives prior to applying to graduate school. 

If you are interested in learning more about the Amgen Scholars Canada Program or applying to be a part of the 2020 cycle, please visit its website. Applications for this year’s cycle are due by Monday, February 3, 2020.


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