Nov. 22, 2019
Cellular curiosity: An undergraduate’s fascination with how cells work
What sparks a love for the natural sciences? Biology offers a myriad of fascinating processes in living organisms from cellular to chemical to molecular. So, why do we feel a need to understand the way our bodies function, or how a plant grows? University of Calgary undergraduate student Adley Mok was hooked the first time he learned about how cells work. After studying biology at Western Canada High School in Calgary, Adley knew that biological research was what he wanted to pursue. He wasn’t sure what it was or how to go about it, but he was certain he caught the research bug.
Adley’s interest in research and science in high school led him to participate in the Sanofi BioGenius research competition in 2015. He reached out to Dr. Christopher Mody, MD, professor and Head, in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Infectious Disease. Dr. Mody became Adley’s mentor in his pursuit of understanding how killer cells in the immune system function.
Now in his 4th year of the Cellular, Molecular, and Microbial Biology (CMMB) program, he shares his thoughts about undergraduate research at the University of Calgary where he currently works toward an honour's thesis and graduation in the winter 2020 term.
Adley’s work with Dr Mody has helped to focus his thesis topic as well. He explains “My thesis, The Role of Granzymes in Anti-fungal Activity of NK-cells, is an investigation into how these immune cells interact with pathogens at the deeper, molecular level.” He has also participated in the Taylor Institute’s Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE), winning an award to further his research studies with Dr Mody. Adley appreciated the guidance and insight from his PURE coordinator particularly how to take his research down a professional path. The PURE program shed light on the types of jobs and academic options available in the field of biology and encouraged him to attend industry events and to network. Proactively putting yourself out there is never easy but Adley reflects that trying to gain a personal level of contact with industry professionals can only increase your opportunities.
During Adley’s first year at the University of Calgary, he wanted an opportunity to engage with his peers and gain volunteer experience. The Faculty of Science had launched a new program, the Science Ambassadors, and he jumped at the chance to join and participate. Over several years, he has been an integral part of the video team creating and sharing content for their multiple social media channels. Adley reflects that “students should feel like the faculty is really trying to connect with them”, he lists the PROFice series as an example of fostering positive connections between professors and students. He notes that students, especially new ones, can be shy and lack the confidence to talk to professors and videos like these are an effective way to overcome these obstacles. His favourite project, The Science Advisor video sums up Adley’s recognition that we all have different personalities and learning methods and eliminating barriers between students and professors can greatly assist students in planning and embarking upon their career paths.
When he graduates, Adley aspires to continue his studies in graduate school and feels “in depth knowledge of research” will prepare him for the next step in achieving his goal of a career in biological sciences. He is a proponent of dispelling the misconception that medical school is the only option for a biological science graduate, and he warns of the stress this can put on mental health.
“A major in Biological science prepares students for careers in biology. Students should be asking what can I do with a biology degree?” states Adley. He suggests pharmaceuticals, laboratory services, energy, and consulting as a few possibilities. The pressure on some to enter medicine can be unrealistic and often clouds their reasons to engage in studies in biology. “Celebrate the diversity of the bio sci portfolio” offers Adley, who often finds himself counselling friends and colleagues about their biology goals and loss of hope if medicine just isn’t an option.
After graduate school, Adley envisions working in the pharmaceuticals field. He’ll probably have to leave the comforts of a Calgary home base as bigger centers like Vancouver and Toronto beckon, although his passion for research may keep him in the academic fold. As Alberta strives to demonstrate leadership in the health sciences, Adley could certainly be one of the innovative Calgary grown entrepreneurs in the space. Whatever the future holds for Adley, he is sure to go after it with all his might and continue a path that leverages his biological science studies and passion for researching the inner working of cells.
For more on Dr. Mody’s research, visit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=mody+ch+NOT+Sheffield
For Science Ambassador information, visit:
Article by Neil Christensen