GRADUATE & LIFE SCIENCES EDUCATION

Nathan Chan, Physiology

Nathan Chan
Department of Physiology within the Faculty of Medicine
Faculty of Arts and Science
Undergraduate (Project) Student

Nathan is entering his fourth year at the University of Toronto’s Honours Bachelor of Science program. Within the Faculty of Arts and Science, Nathan is undertaking studies in the Physiology Specialist and Pharmacology Major programs. For two consecutive years, Nathan was awarded the 2015 IMS Summer Undergraduate Research Program Award and the 2016 Life Sciences Undergraduate Student Research Opportunity Program Award to conduct research under the supervision of Dr. Beverley Orser at the Department of Physiology. Research in the Orser Lab’s focuses on the safety and mechanisms of anesthetics. Nathan’s research focus has been to understand the role and physiological mechanisms of extrasynaptic GABA receptors in the hippocampus through animal, biochemical, and electrophysiological assays.

An important factor for Nathan when engaging in research is the ability to apply the knowledge and experience gained from his academic programs of physiology and pharmacology. Thus, Nathan’s search for research experience focused on labs which performed drug research from a physiological and pharmacodynamic perspective. As typical for many students whom choose to engage in research, Nathan’s search for a research position involved contacting several different labs and supervisors from a multitude of departments. Despite several early rejections, refusals, and non-responses, Nathan continued to persevere until he was offered a volunteer position in the Orser Lab in October 2014. To his fortune, Dr. Orser had been researching the safety and mechanisms of anesthetics, a field which aptly combines both pharmacology and physiology. Nathan later became a project student during the academic year, and a summer student during the inter-year breaks. Nathan continues to work with the Orser Lab, and this academic year will mark Nathan’s third year with the lab. 

Although the typical undergraduate experience in research involves engaging in research in multiple labs, Nathan has spent a significant amount of time with the Orser Lab, which has been advantageous in many ways. First, Nathan has found that working in a consistent environment with familiar colleagues has allowed him to develop stronger rapport with lab members, allowing him to contribute to ongoing projects by understanding the history and context of projects. Second, Nathan’s continued experience with the lab has facilitated a more nuanced understanding of anesthetic-related scientific literature, allowing him to assist in efforts to move projects forward and participate in the discussion of new project ideas. Third, Nathan’s long-term involvement with the Orser Lab has taught him a number of valuable techniques, such as the development of immunohistochemistry protocols, the recording of electrical currents in neurons using the patch-clamp technique, and animal behavioural assays to observe for anxio-depressive behaviors and cognitive deficits in mice.

In remaining with the Orser Lab, Nathan has found not only the academic aspects of research enjoyable, but the social aspects as well. Nathan has found senior members of the lab as invaluable resources in not only research related questions, but also questions concerning personal, social, and professional development. Nathan has furthermore found the Orser Lab’s graduate students as close peers and friends, relating over shared experiences in lab, university, and life. (In fact, Nathan and the graduate students may frequently be found completing crossword puzzles together over lunch!) Nathan’s ongoing time with the Orser Lab has furthermore brought him to local and national symposia and conferences, where he has engaged with graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to discuss research. Nathan’s time at conferences such as the 2016 CAN-ACN Meeting has even allowed him to discuss social issues such as the intersection of LGBTQ+ identity and the scientific community. In all, Nathan has found the social experience of research an immensely fulfilling aspect of his life.

Nathan hopes to eventually become a clinician scientist practicing in anesthesia. Following the completion of his undergraduate degree, Nathan intends to complete both a Ph.D. in a healthcare related field, as well as a MD with specialty in anesthesia. Although his path is a long one yet, Nathan is certain his perseverance will push him through the subsequent years of education with vigour and enthusiasm.