STUDENT: Saambavi Charu Sankaran
FIELD OF STUDY: Integrated Sciences
WORK TERMS: 4
"I would highly recommend looking for opportunities across a variety of fields. Co-op is a great time to explore your interests while gaining invaluable skills.
I worked in two very different fields, being cancer immunotherapy and neurodegenerative prion diseases. This variety of experiences helped develop my wet-lab techniques and critical analytical skills. This is also a great time to explore different career paths to help figure out what opportunities you want to pursue after graduation. "
What is your field of study?
I am an Integrated Sciences (ISCI) student, and my disciplines are Molecular Biology and Immunology. However, my passions lie in cancer immunotherapy and better understanding their basic biology to improve the design of future immunotherapies. I am currently completing my honors thesis studying chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells, which are a genetically engineered T-cell therapy, currently approved for use in leukemia and lymphoma.
Why did you choose to enroll in co-op?
I chose to enroll in the co-op program as I wanted to improve my wet lab research skills and further my training as a scientist. As an ISCI student, I felt it was important to supplement my course-based knowledge with real-world research experience. Lastly, with my interest in research and pursuing graduate school, I thought co-op would be a great opportunity to network and explore my interests.
Which positions did you work during co-op?
During co-op, I worked for 8 months at the Terry Fox Labs (TFL) at the BC Cancer Research Centre (BCCRC) with Dr. Kevin Hay, studying CAR T-cell immunotherapy. I focused on understanding the persistence of CAR T-cells and helped develop my project from its inception. I am currently continuing this project with my honors thesis. My next co-op term was in Calgary, studying prion diseases with Dr. Hermann Schaetzl at the University of Calgary (UofC) Health Research Innovation Centre (HRIC) for 8 months. I worked with a graduate student, Cris, to better understand the role of heat shock proteins in prion disease pathogenesis.
Can you share your favourite experience(s) while in co-op?
One of my favourite experiences during co-op, was when I was closely involved in writing a review and a manuscript on prion diseases with Dr. Schaetzl. Due to the pandemic, in-person research experiments were curtailed last March. Instead, Dr. Schaetzl gave me the opportunity to work with Cris to prepare a primary manuscript and a systematic review article. I completed a systematic literature search and was involved in writing and figure preparation. The review focused on prion-like neurodegenerative disease and was recently published. This was my first publication and I am so grateful for that opportunity.
What advice would you offer to future co-op students?
I would highly recommend looking for opportunities across a variety of fields. Co-op is a great time to explore your interests while gaining invaluable skills. I worked in two very different fields, being cancer immunotherapy and neurodegenerative prion diseases. This variety of experiences helped develop my wet-lab techniques and critical analytical skills. This is also a great time to explore different career paths to help figure out what opportunities you want to pursue after graduation.
What are you looking forward to after graduation?
I am looking to finally finish my undergraduate-level courses! I can’t say I will completely be done with course work, as I will be starting graduate school here at UBC in September in the Interdisciplinary Oncology Program (IOP). I will be working with Dr. Kevin Hay, studying CAR T-cell persistence, and am so grateful to co-op for opening this door for me. I am very excited to take this next step in my career as a scientist and look forward to continuing my research this fall.
Published: March 2021