Abisola Kehinde

Understanding the metabolic consequences of the systemic alanine depletion in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My career dream is to work in an academic or research-based environment where I can apply my educational and leadership skills to contribute to the development of science and health. As a passionate learner and dedicated scientist, I recognize that pursuing a graduate degree is an essential step toward achieving this goal. As I reflected on my career aspirations, I realized that becoming a professor would be the perfect way to combine my love of teaching and research. To achieve this, I knew that a graduate degree was necessary to gain the specialized knowledge and research experience required for success in this field. Through my graduate studies, I plan to delve deeper into the fascinating world of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and carry out novel research that will provide me with a broad range of experiences and skills. I am eager to work alongside esteemed faculty and colleagues to contribute to cutting-edge research and advance our understanding of the world around us. Overall, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue my passion and make meaningful contributions to the scientific community through my graduate studies.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Researching clinical diseases has always been my passion but due to the lack of clinical research labs in my undergraduate department, I had to choose a different research area (which was largely self-funded). In pursuit of that goal, I came to Canada for graduate training, specifically at the University of British Columbia (UBC) which is renowned for an environment conducive to learning, leadership, and research. Consistently ranked among the top 40 universities globally, UBC has produced Nobel laureates and leading scientists in various fields. Additionally, UBC offers numerous scholarship opportunities to aid students' research, which was a significant factor in my decision to apply. It was difficult to gain immediate entry to a clinical research program in Canada as I lacked the required technical experience, so I decided to acquire the necessary skills through a Master’s program that aligned with my undergraduate training. My Master’s research allowed me to develop the technical skills I was interested in, while also investigating a topic of personal interest—infant nutrition—and to make contributions that will help millions of children worldwide, most notably in tropical nations. The quest to fulfill my passion for clinically relevant research is what attracted me to my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Parker at UBC, who is working to improve cancer therapy by studying the unique metabolic/nutritional demands of cancer cells.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

UBC Biochemistry stood out to me for its outstanding research facilities and opportunities, particularly in clinical research, which is my area of passion. What drew me to UBC was the research being conducted by my current Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Seth Parker, at the BC Children's Hospital Research Institute. Dr. Parker's work aligns perfectly with my research interests and goals, making UBC and BC Children's Hospital an ideal place for me to pursue my graduate studies. Dr. Parker's research program in amino acid metabolism, nutrient transporters, and their roles in typical and atypical (cancer) cell growth and metabolism is well-equipped with cutting-edge infrastructure such as tissue culture, molecular biology, sample preparation for metabolomics, and mass spectrometry. Additionally, core facilities at BCCHR offer other state-of-the-art techniques like flow cytometry, histology, DNA sequencing, and imaging, along with mouse facilities and veterinarian technicians. What excites me the most about studying at UBC is the broader community at BCCHR and UBC Biochemistry. Experts in proteomics cancer biology, pancreas physiology, and immuno-metabolism are available to me, several of whom collaborate with Dr. Parker. These relationships broaden the pool of immediate mentorship available to me and ensure a large peer group in which to develop scientifically. I'm thrilled to be part of this dynamic research community and look forward to contributing to Dr. Parker's groundbreaking research in targeting the unique metabolic demands of cancer cells.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

One of the most delightful surprises for me at UBC and in Vancouver is the accessibility of local foods and connections with people from my community and religion. I also find it fascinating that UBC's campus is home to many tourist attractions, and I always love to invite my friends to bask in its beauty. The university is situated on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by forests and mountains, which provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, and kayaking. Moreover, UBC has many green spaces and gardens, such as the Nitobe Memorial Garden and UBC botanical garden. Vancouver, the city where UBC is located, is culturally diverse and stunning, offering a high quality of life.

I came to Canada for graduate training, specifically at the University of British Columbia (UBC) which is renowned for an environment conducive to learning, leadership, and research. Consistently ranked among the top 40 universities globally, UBC has produced Nobel laureates and leading scientists in various fields. Additionally, UBC offers numerous scholarship opportunities to aid students' research, which was a significant factor in my decision to apply.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I am excited about all aspects of my graduate program at UBC, but what I enjoy most is the abundance of opportunities for scholarship, mentorship, and collaboration. One of the highlights for me has been the opportunity to attend workshops and seminars hosted by top researchers in the field, where I have been able to connect with them and discuss their work. The biochemistry graduate program also organizes retreats that have been incredibly valuable for building relationships with fellow students and faculty members. Working on cutting-edge research projects and collaborating with experienced faculty members and fellow students is another aspect of the program that I love. UBC's Biochemistry department is home to world-renowned scientists, and the graduate seminars in the department are a testament to the level of expertise and research going on. The vast resources available through UBC and BCCHR have been helpful in navigating graduate school. The mentorship program hosted by the UBC Faculty of Medicine's matching peer mentorship program has been especially helpful for me. Talking to someone who has been through a similar phase and learning about the opportunities available upon completion of my studies has been invaluable. The graduate student online community is also a fantastic resource, and I am looking forward to attending more career workshops hosted by UBC G+PS. Overall, I am thrilled to be part of such an exceptional graduate program and am looking forward to all the opportunities and experiences that lie ahead.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

As I look ahead to my future career, I anticipate facing some significant challenges. One of the biggest is undoubtedly the intense competition for job opportunities in the field. Additionally, with science continually evolving at such a rapid pace, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest developments and stay ahead of the curve. As someone who is passionate about pursuing an academic career, I am also aware of the pressure to produce a substantial number of scientific publications and develop strong grant writing skills. Despite these challenges, I am confident that I am actively working to overcome them. I am continually striving to improve my scientific and grant writing abilities by attending workshops and seeking out feedback from mentors and colleagues. Additionally, I recognize the importance of staying up-to-date with the latest research and innovations in my field and regularly attend conferences and seminars to deepen my understanding. Ultimately, I believe that with hard work, dedication, and a willingness to learn and grow, I can overcome any obstacle and succeed in my chosen career path.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My academic background and excellent grades laid a solid foundation for my UBC graduate program. Additionally, my undergraduate studies helped me to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that have proven invaluable in my current studies. Before starting grad school, I volunteered extensively, which allowed me to hone my leadership, interpersonal, and communication skills, and cultivate a collaborative mindset. These social skills have been particularly helpful in communicating and working with my peers and professors in the program. Finally, having obtained an excellent undergraduate degree in my home country, which faces infrastructural challenges, demonstrates my adaptability and resilience in the face of adversity. These qualities have been essential in adapting to the challenges of graduate school and overcoming setbacks along the way.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

When I'm not studying or researching, I enjoy engaging in various extracurricular activities. I'm an active volunteer and participant in student clubs, graduate programs, and community programs, and there are usually a lot of fun social events that I enjoy organizing or participating in, such as the Muslim student club at UBC. Another activity that I find enjoyable is browsing online stores and adding beautiful things to my shopping cart, even if I don't end up buying them. I also love exploring the aesthetic side of the city with friends, discovering new hidden gems, and enjoying good food. Whenever life gets chaotic, I make sure to take a break and engage in outdoor activities that help me clear my mind. Finally, I find talking to family and close friends reassuring and helpful when I'm feeling overwhelmed or stressed. I believe that it's essential to have a good work-life balance and take breaks to avoid burnout, especially in graduate school.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

When starting your graduate studies, it's crucial to ensure that your living situation is conducive to your mental health. Don't hesitate to spend a little extra to get a comfortable apartment that promotes your overall well-being, including research productivity. Additionally, consider setting up Google alerts for research topics related to your field and following relevant topics on social media platforms such as Twitter. This can expose you to recent papers and help you stay up-to-date with the latest developments. Applying for scholarships is also highly recommended, not only for the financial benefits but also for the sense of purpose and direction it provides. As a thesis-based student, applying for scholarships can force you to create a research plan, establish a timeline, and communicate your research to others, which can lead to valuable feedback from your supervisor. Make sure to take advantage of the resources provided by the university, such as financial advisors, emergency technology bursaries, food banks, and wellness centers. In addition, volunteering within your program or participating in extracurricular activities such as clubs or community groups can greatly enhance your academic and professional development. UBC is known for recruiting top students from around the world, so don't be afraid to engage in conversations with your peers, including undergraduates. This can broaden your academic, cultural, and career perspectives. Finally, remember that failure is a natural part of the learning process. Be resilient and use setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow on your path toward success.

Outside of your academic work, what are the ways that you engage with your local or global community? Are there projects in particular that you are proud of?

When I am not immersed in academic work, I am passionate about giving back to my community. One of the ways I do this is through mentoring underrepresented students who are interested in STEM. I have volunteered in local programs such as Let's Talk Science, where I co-developed and delivered presentations to grade 4 students. However, one mentoring experience that stands out to me is when I worked with an undergraduate student in the UBC equity and diversity program. This program connects underrepresented groups in science with peer mentors, and I was able to use my life experiences to relate to the student and help nurture their interests. Despite the challenges of COVID-19 that led to the student's lack of lab experience, I spent extra time researching literature and teaching in a way that was understandable to the student. I was thrilled to see the student continue their research and excitedly communicate their current endeavours. Additionally, I use my social media platforms such as Twitter, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn to engage with individuals from various backgrounds, especially females. I am currently working on expanding my outreach efforts through a website that will provide networking opportunities for underrepresented groups as they navigate their career paths in science.


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