Maryam Vaseghi-Shanjani

Discovery and characterization of novel primary immunodeficiency diseases in humans
Stuart Turvey
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

For as long as I can remember, pursuing a career in medicine had always been my dream. When I started undergrad at McMaster University, I had developed a roadmap of the courses I needed to take and the experiences I needed to acquire to apply to medical school. But soon after I started, things did not seem as straightforward anymore. Throughout my physician-shadowing experiences, I realized that I wanted something more than just a career in medicine. At that time, I had also began volunteering at a clinical movement disorders lab at Toronto Western Hospital. That was when I first realized my passion for research and discovery, something I was never exposed to previously. During my time there, I met and worked with multiple world-class clinician-scientists. I was surprised to find out that one could pursue both fields jointly and be so successful at both, to break new grounds and push medicine in new directions. It was then that I started developing an understanding for the skills required to pursue a career that combined both research and medicine. I knew that as an undergraduate student, I could expose myself to various fields of research and through these experiences, discover a field that I was truly passionate about, a research area that I could tirelessly pursue in the years to come. Eventually, I realized that my passion lies in immunology, a field that I have been pursuing extensively as a graduate student both at McMaster University, and here at UBC.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I became interested in UBC’s MD/PhD program after attending a conference in Vancouver in 2017. On my visit there, I was able to roam around the UBC campus and explore some research facilities affiliated with UBC. This sparked my interest. I found out that UBC is one of the best universities in Canada for medical and scientific training. For me, the most unique aspect of UBC was the value it places on diversity and inclusion. As a research institute, it values collaboration and innovation and consistently ranks as one of the world’s top research universities. It is also home to many world-renowned researchers and scientists and receives millions of dollars in research funding, which is key to be able to have state-of-the-art facilities. As a medical institute, it has an extensive curriculum that trains medical graduates that are the best at clinical skills in Canada and encourages community-oriented practice.

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

The MD/PhD program at UBC has provided me with the unique opportunity to pursue both research and medicine concurrently in the best way possible. As an MD/PhD student, I am already able to develop and combine my research and clinical skills on a daily basis. In Turvey lab, I have the unique opportunity to meet patients and be involved in their care, as well as obtain samples from them to study in the lab. This has allowed me to experience translational research in all of its stages and to make significant progress in my goal of becoming a clinician-scientist.

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

The best surprise about living in Vancouver was that the rainy weather is actually enjoyable and refreshing!

I found out that UBC is one of the best universities in Canada for medical and scientific training. For me, the most unique aspect of UBC was the value it places on diversity and inclusion. As a research institute, it values collaboration and innovation and consistently ranks as one of the world’s top research universities
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I really enjoy that I'm able to interact with my study patients and their families, and I'm able to build rapport with them and share the results of our studies in the lab with them!

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

Clinician-scientists are always challenged by competing clinical and academic responsibilities. They are not only responsible for their patients, but also have to prioritize their students and employees in the lab. As such, I believe that time management, prioritizing tasks, and learning to delegate responsibilities are the biggest challenges for clinician-scientists.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

MD/PhD students are constantly challenged to be able to meet the expectations of both the MD and the graduate program concurrently. Throughout the past 2 years, I have learned to prioritize and manage my timer better to be able to meet all the deadlines. I also have learned to be kind to myself and understand that I have limitations, and as such, I should never be afraid to ask for help or delegate tasks to others if I can!

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

Prior to moving to UBC, I completed a double major program at McMaster studying Biology and Psychology for my undergrad studies, and I also completed a Master’s in immunology at McMasters Immunology Research Centre. During my time at McMaster, I established a strong foundation in immunology and my experiences as a master’s student molded my way of thinking to one that is more systematic, more capable of problem-solving, and situated towards translational discovery.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I love having my friends over and watching movies together! Since the beginning of the pandemic I haven't been able to invite my friends over, so we go for long walks together instead!

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

My advice for new graduate students is to challenge themselves to move outside of their comfort zone and learn new techniques in the lab. With the scientific field expanding faster than ever, we need to be well-versed in a variety of research skills to be able to best answer our research questions!


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