From campus to cancer research

Janvi Tamakuwala (she/her), a fourth-year Health student, discusses her most recent co-op term as a pancreatic cancer medical research assistant at the Notta Lab under the University Health Network (UHN).

Janvi standing in a hallway smiling

What role are you in and what responsibilities does it entail?

As a pancreatic cancer medical research assistant, my responsibilities consist of both in-vivo and in-vitro tasks, including tissue culture of patient-derived organoids and patient-derived xenograft models.

Alongside the wet lab tasks, I also engage in general laboratory maintenance to ensure laboratory protocols and procedures run smoothly for all.

After four months, I became the senior co-op student and helped teach the junior co-op students the tasks that I learnt in the first half of my term.

 

What is your favourite part of the job?

My favourite part of the job was being able to design my own preliminary study in a topic that drove my scientific curiosity. Throughout the four months that I spent working and designing my project, I feel that I was really exposed to the scientific process and strengthened my critical thinking skills.

This multidisciplinary project allowed me to appreciate the complexity of cancer research and learn skills that will follow me into grad school, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

How do you think this experience has helped you develop yourself?

I believe this experience has allowed me to take on a strong leadership role. I was anxious at first to take on the role of senior co-op because I had to ensure I was extremely familiar with the lab and the protocols that I had been taught to adequately translate this knowledge to the new co-op students and the technician I was training. 

I was also in charge of leading my own research project, which was a novel experience for me as I had not done so in my previous co-op terms or academically. Balancing the two together had taught me to further develop my communication, problem-solving and self-awareness skills. 

How did you overcome challenges during this work term?

I faced multiple challenges with my project's study design that I had not previously anticipated when I was in the planning stage. I overcame a lot of difficulties by asking questions and reaching out to members of the lab who had experienced similar challenges with their own projects. This included multiple consultations with my managers, post-doctoral fellows, technicians, pathologists and my fellow co-op peers.

By approaching members of a multi-disciplinary team, I was provided with a lot of opinions and insight on how to navigate the stress of research and support with more technical questions as well. 

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