Research towards remission 

Rahul Desai (he/him), a third-year Health student, discusses his experience at the Odette Cancer Center, his love for research and the wide variety of work within healthcare. 

Rahul's co-op journey

First and second work term: After working at Toronto General Hospital during his first year, Rahul decided to complete his first two co-op placements at the Odette Cancer Center. As a research assistant, Rahul’s responsibilities included developing research topics and research methods, doing data analysis, manuscript writing and publication.

Q&A with Rahul

What were some of the highlights of working at Toronto General and the Odette Cancer Center? 

Rahul with his colleagues


“At Toronto General Hospital, one key highlight was supporting an epic software implementation of electronic health records at the hospital. I worked on technical support and helped the clinical staff, such as the nurses, doctors, PSWs and clerics learn the software. I also helped improve workflows through tips sheets and learning exercises.” 

“At the Odette Cancer Center, one key highlight has been working end to end on research projects, supporting numerous projects spearheaded by my supervisor. Currently, we're writing a meta-analysis on the best treatment lines for biliary tract cancer. We're looking at all the research available to find what are the best ways to treat this cancer. We’re also working with different partners to understand how programs should prescribe cancer drugs.” 


What have you learned about the healthcare industry from being on co-op?

“The healthcare industry is more than doctors and nurses. They are the backbone of the industry but there is a lot more within healthcare that students often overlook. There is technology, like managing electronic medical records or working with AI. There’s research to continuously improve patient care and treatment options. There's also the business side of healthcare, which involves managing costs and overseeing operations. Working at the cancer center has expanded my understanding of the different avenues of healthcare and how broad it truly is.” 

“The second thing I learned is that the industry is always evolving. For a person who doesn't like stagnation and monotonous work, the healthcare industry is amazing. You are consistently learning and exploring different opportunities. You can also move from one area to another. For example, right now I'm working in cancer care, but I can use those skills and apply them to research, cardiology, orthopedics or trauma to have a more holistic perspective.” 

“I've learned that I like research. Students will often say that what they’re learning in school cannot be applied in the workplace but I don't see that. I'm using foundational science knowledge, such as biology, physiology or chemistry, and applying it to my field. I’m learning research methods and writing skills in the classroom and applying those at work. So, there's a lot of application and I've learned that the skills I'm learning in school are relevant in my workplace.” 

What do you like about working in research? 

“There are different aspects of research. My position is a little bit different than someone who's working in a wet lab. I’m a review researcher and I enjoy doing that because I’m learning how to be efficient in reading, grasping knowledge and presenting knowledge to a target audience. I enjoy working from end to end because I’m able to grow research topics and see them written into papers that people read and appreciate. I love research and I hope I can continue fostering some aspect of research in my future career.” 

A picture of rahul's workplace


How do you stay organized while doing research? 

“One thing that I learned through my supervisor that has helped me stay on track is planning out action items for the week and the day. Which projects am I working on? What are the timelines for those projects? This keeps me on track because sometimes research projects are very big and they have multiple partners. The best way to keep myself organized is to build on those action items.” 

What made you want to return to the Odette Cancer Center? 

Rahul posing in scrubs

“I’ll be returning to the Odette Cancer Center in the summer and there is a plan to complete the rest of my co-op terms there as well.” 

“The center is the hallmark of research and oncology. They do a lot of great work; any sort of new developments in the field are happening at the Odette Cancer Center. They’re in affiliation with the University of Toronto and their medical schools, so I want to be involved and support the research cause. Essentially, the center resonates with my personal goal of contributing to new innovations.” 

“The center is also very accommodating and student-focused; they want students to succeed and learn so that they can become future clinicians and researchers. Students are more than just a number. That’s really special.” 

Do you have any advice for students looking to work in a hospital or research setting? 

“My main piece of advice is to take initiative. I entered the healthcare field by calling my local hospital and asking if I could volunteer. To get my foot in my door in research, I emailed professors and signed up for mentorship programs to connect with those interested in mentoring students. I even interacted with professors during office hours and asked if I could research with them.” 

“I ended up doing an independent study with Doctor Heckman for HLTH 472. In my second year, I told him that I was interested in his work, and the field, and asked if I could do an independent study with him. He was happy to mentor me. So, take initiative, ask around and have an open mind.” 

What’s next for you? 

“I’m returning to the Odette Cancer Center to continue my research work with my supervisor. Personally, I want to continue building research-focused skills and take more courses related to aging, human health and epidemiology. I found out that I had an interest in those areas during my co-op, and now I want to apply this knowledge in school.” 

“I'm looking forward to future opportunities, whether that be medical school or further education in the healthcare field. Doing something that involves clinical work, research and teaching is important to me. The co-op program and academia at the University of Waterloo has fostered my passion for knowledge and learning, which I plan on growing in the future.” 

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