Nov. 2, 2021
Class of 2021: 6 questions with Jacob Varghese
This is part of series of articles where we asked the fall cohort of the class of 2021 to reflect on their time at the university and share what they learned and loved about their time here. For more student responses, visit Congratulations, Class of 2021.
Jacob Varghese graduated with a Master of Science in veterinary medical sciences in fall 2021 and took a few minutes to answer our questions about his time at the University of Calgary.
What advice would you give yourself on your first day of university?
Be open to new opportunities and invest in experiences. We sometimes enter university with a mindset of already knowing what you want to do and who you want to be, which can come at the expense of seeking out novel experiences. There is no shortage of opportunities to avail yourself of; it’s just a matter of putting yourself out there. Learning is not confined to your classes or the laboratory.
Is there a project, discovery or moment from your time at the university that you are most proud of?
I am most proud of troubleshooting a protocol for developing cow embryos in our lab. I was able to work with my supervisor directly on a project and we went through months of trials, without consistent results. It forced us to go back to the basics and critically evaluate every step in our procedure, but also afforded us the opportunity to make improvements or try novel approaches and augmentations to a previously established protocol. What was more impactful was seeing the goal, the culmination of multiple months of troubleshooting, as viable cow embryos. It is difficult to express on paper the magic of creating new life within our lab and the enjoyment of seeing months of work finally come together.
Tell us about one person who supported you through your studies and powered you along the way.
I acknowledge the extensive contributions of Dr. John Kastelic for his venerable commitment to students, and his dedicated investment in consolidating my identity. Although he was never my supervisor or on my committee, and was never formally associated with me in a supervisory relationship at the University of Calgary, Dr. Kastelic played an integral role in my growth throughout. I have an immense feeling of respect and admiration to Dr. Kastelic for sharing his unique perspectives on life, identity and the duty to society with me. His endeavours in enabling others to achieve their goals consolidated my vision in terms of the type of person I want to be.
What was the most unexpected or surprising thing you learned in your studies at the University of Calgary?
I experienced a paradigm shift in my approach to learning during my experience at the University of Calgary that I felt really elevated my critical thinking and reasoning skills.
My undergraduate degree was focused on science in the context of details, whereas the graduate program forced me to recontextualize this learning into the fundamentals of how things work. I became fascinated with seeing science holistically rather than in separate subdomains of chemistry, physics and biology. I was able to critically evaluate observations, make new interpretations and, most importantly, more effectively troubleshoot by having a genuine understanding of the theory behind the steps of a procedure. I realized science was more about an integration of different domains and their interplay with one another. Some of my favourite experiences were successfully troubleshooting protocols or fixing pieces of equipment like incubators, pH meters and osmometers by applying basic science principles to these issues.
What is your favourite physical space on campus? When you come back to visit in years to come, where will you make sure to stop by?
HMRB 421 (in the Heritage Medical Research Building) was a shared office where I spent the majority of my time outside of the lab. It was such a dynamic and vibrant environment, and an honour to sit beside and get to know colleagues from around the world. At one point, the office included veterinarians and students from Japan, Egypt, Colombia, India, Brazil and Paraguay, all sitting together. We would share ideas, perspectives and opinions and it made for immensely rich discussions. I got to know so many people from different backgrounds and we bonded over our time together in the office. It wasn’t quality of the space or the amenities that I reminisce, but rather the quality of the people around me that I miss most.
Now what? What’s your next big move?
I am currently in Hamilton, Ont., starting my first year of an MD program at McMaster University. It’s been a fantastic experience so far, and I felt it was a journey I was well-equipped to start coming out of the University of Calgary. I couldn’t be happier where I ended up, and I could not have made it without the immense and dedicated support of supervisors, mentors and colleagues that I met during my time with the University of Calgary.