Luisa Garzon, Rehabilitation Sciences Institute

Student Name: Luisa Garzon
Department: Rehabilitation Sciences Institute (RSI)
Research Title: Master’s student/Trainee
Supervisor: Dr. Darcy Fehlings

Short description of your research
For my master’s thesis I am investigating the use of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) for upper limb impairment in children and youths with Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy.

Why did you choose this Department
Despite doing my undergrad at UofT, I didn’t actually know much about RSI up until the year graduated, and I think this is a bit unfortunate because the department is like a “hidden gem” within the Faculty of Medicine. Nevertheless, once I was able to do some research and speak to both faculty and staff members, I realized it was the perfect fit for me.

How was your experience looking for a research opportunity
UofT is one of the best institutions to be part of as a research student because I believe it actually offers plenty of research-related opportunities every year. When you are genuinely interested in a topic, looking for an RA/volunteer positions is not as though as it is simply time consuming. However, finding a research supervisor for my master’s degree was much more complicated. I think positions for grad students are not openly advertised, so in my experience I had to start by looking at the lists of faculty members for each of the departments I was interested in, and then doing research about both the individual pIs and their labs, to then personally reaching out to the ones I was interested in. Besides this, one thing that helped me the most was that because I was able to work at various hospitals throughout my undergrad, I was already familiar with some of the well-known names and what they were studying prior to contacting them.

When did you start your research experience
My first research experience started in my 2nd year of undergrad. I got a volunteer position in a lab whose expertise was just what I wanted to learn more about at the time, and then I got hired as a summer student that same year.

Why did you choose this supervisor
I think finding your supervisor is just (or even more) important as choosing the right thesis project/department/university. Your supervisor becomes a mentor, therefore you want to be with someone who is both willing and that is able to invest time to help you achieve milestones. I wanted to work with Dr. Fehlings because besides having an awesome lab that focused on the area that I wanted to specialized in, she essentially exemplifies everything a modern scientist should be. As a physician and a researcher, she is dedicated to helping those with neurodevelopmental disabilities (particularly those with Cerebral Palsy) and she is constantly looking to innovate and test out new ideas. Furthermore, she is also a leader who creates opportunities for collaboration across different disciplines, and is an advocate for patients and their families. Her commitment and passion permeates through everything she does, and I was very inspired by her work.

What’s your experience with research
During my undergrad, I tried to get involved in labs that focused on different areas of quantitative research, but yet all fell within the umbrella of neuroscience. I did this because I knew this was the field I was interested in, but I also thought this was the best time I had to explore and figure out what I would eventually be focusing on. Ultimately, I think this approach really worked for me because it not only gave me exposure to various topics, but it also gave me the chance to work with different types of supervisors, and more importantly, it did eventually allow me to pinpoint exactly what I wanted to study as a graduate student.

How’s the social experience with research
The so called “work-life balance” is something I have personally struggled with until I realize that these two concepts don’t have to exist as a binary framework that puts our professional careers and our personal lives against each other. Instead, I now look at them as competing parts of ourselves that we must try to come together in a more integrated way. Luckily, both RSI and the research institute where my lab is located are somewhat smaller when compared to the rest UofT, and I think I have benefitted from this setting because it has made it easier for me to find peers who not only share similar interests, but that I also see very often. Thus, giving me plenty of opportunities where I can socialize and also discuss more academic matters.

Future career plans
Right now I most excited about finalizing my thesis. In the future, I hope to be part of a team that is at the forefront of neuroscience discoveries, and that we are able to make significant contributions to the quality of life of patients.

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” ― Paul Kalanithi

This might sound somewhat cliché, but whatever you do, start early! – although at times it might feel as though you should already be an expert, the only way to get there is to keep fostering your curiosity and asking questions. The more time you put into pursuing your interests and ideas, the more you will come to understand things and the better scientist you will become.