Recognizing Graduate Student Leaders

Erin WongEring Wong 2018-2019

Ering Wong, PhD Candidate
Department: Molecular Genetics

Did you know that GLSE has an Instagram account? Our Instagram, ScienceToU, is a student lead initiative that aims to share the research being conducted at the Faculty of Medicine and to shed light on the day-to-day activities of graduate students and scientists.

Erin Wong is the student leader of our Instagram account. She is a 5thyear PhD candidate in the Department of Molecular Genetics and has played a major role in the development, launch and continued maintenance of ScienceToU.

Erin believes that practicing scientists have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of young scientists and to bridge the gap in scientific understanding between academia and the public. Since photography is also something that she enjoys greatly, when the call came out to recruit student volunteers for the GLSE Instagram committee, she jumped at the opportunity to get involved. She believes that sharing the routine of scientists and communicating their research findings in an easily digestible/visual manner will help demystify science to the public and ultimately foster more curiosity, engagement, and understanding. She has found this experience to be very fulfilling and looks forward to continuing to develop the account. It’s not often that you’ll get the opportunity to combine your work, your hobby and your desire to enact change at the same time.

Erin MillerErin Miller Erin Miller, Physiotherapist and PhD Candidate
Department: Rehabilitation Sciences Institute

I am a physiotherapist and PhD Candidate at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute (RSI) at the University of Toronto.

Throughout my two years in the doctoral program at RSI, I have been actively involved in supporting the graduate student community and promoting ongoing excellence within the Faculty of Medicine. This has included serving on a number of strategic and planning committees, such as the Rehabilitation Sciences Research Day Planning Committee, the Rehabilitation Sciences Faculty and Staff Development Committee, the Faculty of Medicine Strategic Working Group for Rehabilitation Sciences and the International Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation Student Group.

In addition to my work with these committees, I have served as a formal mentor for students across a variety of programs within the Faculty of Medicine. This includes students from RSI, students from the Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MScPT) Program and students from the Ontario Internationally Educated Physical Therapy Bridging (OIEPB) Program.

As a mentor to my peers, I try to foster relationships where both the mentor and mentee contribute to driving the relationship and establishing the mentorship priorities. My experience has been that engaging in mentorship relationships that are reflective and reciprocal in nature (rather than purely hierarchical) leads to a high level of engagement on both the part of the mentor and the mentee. Graduate school can be a very challenging and isolating experience and I think it is important that as students we work together to support each other and help each other to thrive.

In acknowledgement of my capacity to motivate and inspire, I was thrilled to be awarded the 2019 PhD Leadership and Innovation Award at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute.

Jonathan ChioJonathan Chio Jonathan Chio, PhD Candidate
Department: Institute of Medical Science

Jonathon Chio is a PhD student who joined the Institute of Medical Science (IMS) in September 2014. Working under the supervision of Dr. Michael Fehlings, Jonathon’s doctoral thesis aims to facilitate the clinical translation of human immunoglobulin G as an immunomodulatory therapy for treating spinal cord injury. Outside of his academic work, Jonathon has made significant contributions in enhancing the academic experience of students. In the IMS, at the graduate level, he is an Executive Editor on the Institute of Medical Science Student Magazine, mentor in the IMS peer-to-peer mentorship program and student representative on various subcommittees involved with strategic planning and curriculum development. He had also helped to develop the graduate professional development module and participated in the Student Council; holding positions of Secretary, Magazine Representative and Interdepartmental Representative. At the undergraduate level, Jonathon helps to organize the annual IMS Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Outside of IMS, he leads a high school neuroscience outreach program and is a teaching assistant. Jonathon has been a beneficiary of the supportive academic and social environments he grew up in and thus, tries to contribute back by “paying it forward”. This also serves to be the foundation of his leadership philosophy, where he actively participates and leads initiatives that help students reach their full professional and personal potential through academic and social development.
Mikaela StiverMikaela Stiver Mikaela Stiver, PhD Candidate
Department of Rehabilitation Sciences Institute

I am a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute (RSI) working under the supervision of Dr. Anne Agur. Outside of research and teaching, I have sought out numerous opportunities to connect with and contribute to communities within RSI, the University of Toronto, and the City of Toronto/Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

As a member of the Rehabilitation Science Graduate Student Union, I have served as the co-chair of both the Social & Service Committee and the Mentorship Committee. I am also a Senior Editor and Promotions Manager for rehabINK: an academically-driven online publication created and led by graduate students in RSI.

Outside of RSI, I am actively involved with the award-winning, national, charitable organization Let’s Talk Science. Let’s Talk Science focuses on the development and delivery of hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach initiatives for children and youth. As a Site Coordinator, I work with teams of dedicated volunteers to organize and manage several annual symposia for students across the GTA, including StemCellTalks, Let’s Talk Cancer, and the Let’s Talk Science Challenge.

I believe that successful leaders are those who can translate interest or enthusiasm into action and inspire those around them to do the same. I am tremendously grateful for those who inspired me and helped me to recognize the value of pursuing what I truly enjoy. As I near the end of my doctoral studies, I hope to carry this philosophy forward into my career.

Brianna GuildBrianna Guild Brianna Guild, M.H.Sc. Candidate
Department of Speech-Language Pathology

Brianna Guild is a second year M.H.Sc. Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) student who has displayed leadership through her involvements in Mind Your Mind and Theory to Therapy: The Ontario SLP and Audiology Graduate Student Conference.

Developed by UofT SLP alumna Jenna Haji in 2017, Mind Your Mind is a multifaceted wellness program that bridges education, self-care, and personal development in a safe environment for students to learn, grow, and gain peace. Brianna served as Project Manager of Mind Your Mind for the 2018-2019 academic year, which included organizing a committee to run the program, and facilitating weekly mindfulness sessions for the UofT SLP students. Each session focuses on a different topic related to mindfulness, such as self-care, gratitude, and emotional resiliency, and consists of a meditation, education on the topic, and an activity to develop skills in that area.

Additionally, Brianna, alongside SLP student colleagues Allie Annibale and Shanie Rampersaud, was a Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Theory to Therapy 2018, and returned as a Co-Chair in 2019. Theory to Therapy is the first student-run conference for SLP and Audiology graduate students in Ontario that aims to integrate students from across the province to share knowledge and experiences, and showcase the importance of research in clinical practice. Each year, Brianna worked diligently to plan the conference day, which included a keynote speaker, presentations from current clinical and research students, and a team-based advocacy campaign creation challenge.

Brianna’s collaborations with her peers exemplify her leadership philosophy that our best work is done when we work collectively to achieve our goals. Brianna developed this philosophy after years of working as part of successful leadership teams during both her undergraduate and graduate programs. She has consistently been a respectful, inclusive and collaborative leader.

Suzette Newton-Janse van RensburgSuzette Newton-Janse van Rensburg Suzette Newton-Janse Van Rensburg, M.H.Sc Candidate
Department: Speech-Language Pathology

In preparation for the University of Toronto's Speech-Language Pathology program's 60th Anniversary Celebration in June 2018, Suzette formed the SLP Choir, conducting a performance featuring twenty talented Year 1 and Year 2 SLP students. The SLP Choir continued to rehearse and perform throughout 2018. In September 2018, Suzette organized, directed, and performed in Singing for Support: A Concert Highlighting Communication and Mental Health. Taking place in the beautiful Tapestry Opera space in the Distillery District, this fundraiser concert raised funds for the George Hull Centre for Children and Families, a community-based centre for child, youth, and family mental health programs and early intervention. Featuring the singing, dancing, acting, and musical talents of our students, the concert addressed the important connections between mental health and communication. In total, the concert raised over $2300 for the George Hull Centre! Suzette also served as the Co-President for the Class of 2019 Speech-Language Pathology Student Council.

Suzette believes that effective leadership relies on trust and demonstrating a willingness to listen and understand the perspective of others. If you recognize a need for change, take the initiative and speak up, reach out, or take action.

Jo-Anna BaxterJo-Anna Baxter Jo-Anna Baxter, PhD Candidate
Department of Nutritional Sciences

Jo-Anna Baxter is a 4th year PhD Candidate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences (DNS). Under the supervision of Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, her dissertation focuses on the nutrition of adolescent girls in rural Pakistan. She works closely with a team of researchers from the Aga Khan University in the management and conduction of a large randomized trial evaluating the effectiveness of multiple micronutrient supplementation and life skills building education provided to adolescent and young women in Pakistan.

Throughout her time with the DNS, Jo-Anna has had the opportunity to serve in multiple roles within the Nutritional Sciences Graduate Students' Association; as an editor of the DNS graduate student-led magazine (NutriNews); and as a mentor to incoming DNS graduate students. To date, highlights have included running a journal club that promoted thoughtful discussion of pertinent scientific publications; organizing multiple graduate student and faculty social and networking events; and participating in faculty meetings. Outside of the DNS, Jo-Anna is also a member of the Innovation and Education Committee at the Centre for Global Child Health (Hospital for Sick Children). In this role, she has helped with grant administration and review and educational engagement, including organizing a booth for children to learn about global health at Science Rendezvous.

In terms of her leadership philosophy, Jo-Anna strongly believes in ensuring that team members (1) understand role they can contribute, and (2) feel that their efforts are valued. Consequently, she thinks that those involved tend to be more motivated, willing to participate, and optimistic. Jo-Anna greatly values all that she has learned (and continues to learn) around leadership from many fantastic U of T faculty members, as well as from interacting with her peers!

Laura VergeerLaura Vergeer Name: Laura Vergeer, PhD Candidate
Department: Nutritional Sciences
Supervisor: Dr. Mary L’Abbé

How I displayed leadership:
Since beginning my graduate studies in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, I have become involved in several student and alumni organizations. I am Co-President of the Nutritional Sciences Graduate Students’ Association (NSGSA), having previously served as Social Representative and First Year Representative. I am also Vice President of the Department of Nutritional Sciences Alumni Association, and have contributed to our department’s student-led magazine, NutriNews. Outside of the Department, I am a member of the Obesity Canada National Student Executive and a Child Life Volunteer at The Hospital for Sick Children. Through these positions, I have helped to organize and host various events, activities and initiatives for students, faculty and alumni at U of T, as well as members of Obesity Canada and patients and families at SickKids.

My leadership philosophy:
I believe that an effective leader should motivate and inspire others to reach their potential and achieve common goals. A great leader is dedicated, reliable, compassionate and supports the growth of those around them. As a student leader, I aim to encourage my peers to become involved in student life not only for the benefit of our departmental community, but also to provide opportunities for personal growth and strengthening of their own leadership skills.

Sasha DoodnauthSasha Doodnauth Sasha Doodnath, PhD Candidate
Department: Medical Biophysics

Throughout my five years at the University of Toronto, I’ve had many wonderful opportunities to lead a variety of student groups and champion impactful student initiatives. As the president of my student union, I was able to create a tight-knit student community in my department by organizing and leading various academic events and social impact projects. As a student advocate, I successfully co-created the Faculty of Medicine (FoM) Graduate Representation Committee, whose guiding principal was to inform, listen and advocate for all FoM graduate students. Through this committee, my team and I successfully lobbied for increased student funding and restructuring of scholarship top-up practises, resulting in a 7-10% increase in student stipend over the past 2 years. Additionally, in collaboration with GLSE, I was able to co-create an online system for students to assess the quality of their graduate experience and education, allowing for continuous academic reformation. By helping students foster a sense of comradery with their peers through social events, alleviating their financial stresses and assuring a strong graduate tenure, I believe every graduate student's experience across FoM has improved and a stronger sense of UofT community has emerged.

Leadership Philosophy:
My personal leadership philosophy centers around motivating and inspiring others towards a united vision or task; By fostering an environment of mutual respect, open communication and support, teams will be driven to better their goals and scale to newer heights.

Janany JeyasundaramJanany Jeyasundaram Janany Jeyasundaram, MSc Candidate
Department: Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

My identities and experiences have shaped my perspectives on how humans experience occupations within the opportunities and constraints of social and cultural circumstances. As the daughter of refugees, I have a strong sense of being between two worlds—the world of my parents in their homeland, which I have imbibed and internalized, and the world I was born into, where I do not fully belong. I have witnessed legacies of trauma both in my personal circles and in my role as an occupational therapy student. Throughout my occupational therapy education, I actively sought leadership opportunities to further my understanding of equity and move the profession towards greater inclusion of vulnerable populations.

This year, I established the Student Inclusion Diversity Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee, which is a student-led group with the vision to move towards a more equitable learning environment for OS & OT learners. To actualize this vision, we leverage our collective experiences and knowledge to plan and implement equity initiatives that foster new learning and personal growth. For example, in partnership with experts, the Student IDEA Committee was able to host the department’s first ever Black Futures Month event in February of 2019. The two-part workshop addressed the specific role occupational therapists can play to identify disparities and better meet the needs of Black populations. This leadership role has been the most rewarding for me because it allowed me the opportunity to learn from and contribute to our collective development as change agentsa core competency needed in work with vulnerable populations.

In recognition of my leadership, I was pleased to be a recipient of the 2019 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award. This acknowledgement has instilled a confidence and motivation in me to continue to do this work.

Sachin KumarSachin Kumar Sachin Kumar, MD/PhD Candidate
Department: Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology

I am a 4th year MD/PhD student within the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology. This past year, I had the privilege of serving as President of the Confederation of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology (CLAMPS), the department’s graduate students association. My goal was to develop and expand the programming available to our graduate students, particularly around soft-skills, career planning and getting the most out of your graduate degree. This culminated in a revamp of our annual LMP Research Conference, which unified our graduate and post-graduate medical trainees in a day of research excellence, mentorship and scientific communication. I believe that leadership means identifying an important area of need, and crafting creative solutions. Collaborating with the CLAMPS executive and administration, we were able work together towards a unified goal and improve the student experience.

Stephanie NishiStephanie Nishi Stephanie Nishi, PhD Candidate
Department: Nutritional Sciences

Stephanie Nishi is a Registered Dietitian and PhD Candidate with Dr. John Sievenpiper in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. Her thesis project is aimed at investigating the misconception regarding nut intake and adiposity by assessing fatty acid bioavailability via a secondary analysis of a clinical trial and synthesizing the body of knowledge by conducting a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Her ultimate research goal is to help inform evidence-based guidance for public health policy and nutrition guidelines.

In addition to her thesis research, Stephanie is actively involved as a leader in the Faculty of Medicine as well as the broader community.  Within her department she has taken on executive roles with the Nutritional Sciences Graduate Students’ Association (NSGSA), including being President; is an Editor of NutriNews, the graduate student-led magazine; Communications Officer for the Alumni Association; and Mentor for undergraduate and graduate students. In the community, she is Co-Chair for the nationwide group Dietitians Doing Research and enjoys volunteering with various other organizations.

Stephanie strives to be inspired and inspiring, and this ethos helps guide her leadership philosophy.  Through dedication, integrity, and enthusiasm she aims to continue to create and cultivate positive, productive environments.  

Zhila Semnani-Azad, Nutritional SciencesZhila Semnani-Azad, Nutritional Sciences 2019-2020

Zhila Semnani-Azad, PhD Candidate
Department of Nutritional Sciences

Throughout my graduate career, I have been an active member of numerous student-run associations and a dedicated student ambassador and mentor. I have been a regular contributor to my department newsletter, Nutrizine, and have held many positions within the Nutritional Sciences Graduate Student Association (NSGSA). I have worked to establish new connections, share my experiences and interests around research in the sciences, and to improve student and faculty engagement. Through involvement in mentorship programs at several university levels and as the New College Senior Doctoral Fellow for Human Biology, I have provided students with guidance in navigating and excelling in academics, in obtaining research opportunities, in scholarship applications, and in balancing academic and non-academic commitments. My involvement at the University of Toronto over the past several years has assisted my peers, Department, and faculty to build strong relationships and a closer community, and has allowed me to meet and learn from fellow students, faculty, and researchers who excel in their own fields and have made commitments to share their knowledge with others. I truly believe that in order to grow as an individual, it is important to share with and learn from others. Taking on leadership roles throughout my time at the University of Toronto has provided me with a multitude of opportunities and has helped me foster and gain invaluable skills that I look forward to extending to all my future endeavours.