Portraits of 8 students for back to school profile

The month of September signals a new term for hundreds of new and returning students at the Faculty, but the transition to online learning coupled with various COVID-related changes means that this fall’s back-to-school experience is new for everyone.

“I know this isn’t how you envisioned starting your fall 2020 journey with us and I will truly miss meeting students in our building,” said Professor Lisa Dolovich, Professor and Dean of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

“Our main priority this fall is to protect the health and wellness of our community, and we are deeply committed to creating an innovative, and engaging online learning experience for all of our students.” 

The Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy spoke with first-year and upper-year students studying in its undergraduate (PharmD), graduate (PharmSci) and PharmD for Pharmacists programs to find out how students plan on tackling the challenges associated with online learning. Students also shared how they plan on connecting with their ‘Pharmacy Phamily,’ and how some are balancing career, school, caretaking, and other responsibilities.

Read on for ideas and inspiration from students across the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy community and see how learners are overcoming challenges, building resilience and cultivating a memorable U of T experience.

Sarah Cash

First year PharmSci PhD student

What does back to school look like for you this fall?

For everyone, heading back to school this fall looks a whole lot different than previous years due to the pandemic. However, even in these uncertain circumstances, the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and my PhD supervisor, Dr. Carolyn Cummins, have assisted me to make the transition seamless.

I am very excited to see what this year holds for us as we all work together!

What are you most excited about?

I am most excited about getting the ball rolling! Originally, I had planned to be in the lab for this summer, prior to starting my PhD, to get a head-start on experiments. But as COVID-19 hit, the number of people allowed within the lab was significantly reduced and so I was not able to really start yet. I can’t wait to get into the lab and start carrying out my research project.

How do you plan on tackling the challenges associated with online learning?

There are definitely some significant challenges that may arise with online learning, but I think that as an academic community we will confront these obstacles together. To tackle these challenges, I plan on speaking up in class more or sending a professor or TA an email. 

I believe that it is important to ensure open communication between the students and faculty so together we can facilitate successful online learning.  

Why did you choose to study here?

I was always interested in pursuing a graduate degree in the research field of drug discovery, and so U of T was the clear choice. The University of Toronto is unmatched by any other school in the country and is a top academic institution globally. I am honoured to begin my journey at such a well-regarded and world-renowned university for my PhD studies.

What are your future career plans/goals?

I am fascinated by research and cannot wait to be a part of Dr. Cummins’ laboratory for my PhD studies. While pursuing this degree, I hope to assist in developing novel drugs for the treatment of metabolic diseases that will change the lives of many individuals.

My ultimate career goal would be to transition to an industry position at a global pharmaceutical company.

Portrait of Tehmeed Choudry

Tehmeed Choudhry

First year PharmD student

What are you most excited about as you begin your LDFP journey?

I developed a passion for pharmacy in grade 11 and I’m really excited to finally start pharmacy school this fall.

I’m most excited to start learning the curriculum, particularly how pharmacists fit within the diverse Canadian health-care system as well the fate of drugs in the human body.

How do you plan on tackling the challenges associated with online learning?

Online learning may be an obstacle for many students, resulting in easily falling behind the lectures without a proper plan in place.

I will checklist for each class to ensure I am staying ahead of the syllabus and covering all the material. I will also ask for help from my professors and TAs as soon as I encounter learning obstacles so the problem can be mended in a timely fashion.

How will you remain (virtually) engaged with your Pharmacy Phamily?

I am looking forward to the virtual orientation in September where I’ll meet my fellow classmates. I will also be active on the 2T4 Facebook page and take advantage of opportunities to be a more active student such as joining clubs.

Rola Hassan

Rola Hassan

PharmD for Pharmacists

What are you most excited about?

I am excited that I am able to do my rotations onsite.

What’s the best part about being a student at LDFP?

The Faculty is home to very supportive staff, who really care and listen to our concerns. I choose to study at LDFP because they offer high standards of knowledge and experience.

What are you future career plans/goals?

I am looking to find a job in medical affairs in pharmaceutical industry and I hope my PharmD at LDFP will help me to achieve my goal.

Eliza McColl

PharmSci PhD candidate

What does back to school look like for you this fall?

My PhD is research-based and I’ve been working in the lab since mid-June after the COVID-19 shutdown, so back-to-school this fall doesn’t look much different from what I’ve been doing for the past few months.

There are some changes regarding how many people can be in the lab at once due to COVID-19, but other than that I will continue to complete my thesis research in the lab as usual. I will also be a TA, as I was in previous years, but the undergraduate pharmacy course I am supporting is online.

What are you most excited about?

I’m most excited about getting back to being a TA. I really enjoy the opportunity to interact with students in the PharmD program, gain teaching experience, and learn new material from the courses as I TA them, as I haven’t taken them before (they are reserved for PharmD students).

What’s the best part about being a grad student at LDFP? Why did you choose to study here?

The best part about being a grad student at LDFP is that the department is relatively small. U of T is a huge school and I am used to smaller communities – I grew up in a small town in rural southwestern Ontario, and I completed my undergraduate degree at Trent University.

Making the change to U of T was intimidating due to its size, but the fact that the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences is relatively small helped me adjust and find more of a community within the University as a whole.

Despite its smaller size, our department has incredible resources for research, which is why I chose to study here. The equipment and expertise housed within our faculty is unparalleled which makes it a fantastic place to conduct research.

Is there anything that surprised you about LDFP after you started your graduate journey in the Faculty?

The thing that surprised me about LDFP after I started as a grad student here is the breadth of research being conducted in the Faculty. Some people (myself included) tend to have a very narrow view of what “pharmaceutical sciences” encompasses, but LDFP really opened my eyes to how diverse this field is.

We have labs doing more typical pharmaceutical research such as drug discovery and clinical research, but we also have other labs conducting research in areas such as medical diagnostics, physiology, cell signaling, global health, and bioethics. I wasn’t expecting to be exposed to so many different areas of research as a student!

What are your future career plans/goals?

After graduating from my PhD, my career plan is to secure a post-doctoral fellowship to complete my training before seeking a position as a university professor with my own research lab. Ideally, this would allow me to pursue my passion for maternal-fetal health research.

Jody Mugford

PharmD for Pharmacists program

What does back to school look like for you this fall?

I am expecting this fall to be quite busy, both in my personal and academic life.  

I have two young daughters – one is seven years old and the other will be four years old this month.  My youngest is very medically complex and requires a lot of care, which can make my days unpredictable.  

To adjust my academic schedule, due to a medical emergency we went through with her last year, I am taking an extra course this semester than previously planned. I also have recently resumed full-time work after an extended leave to take care of my daughter, so I'm adjusting to another type of busy.  

I'm looking forward to the courses this fall, and I will definitely not be bored!

What are you most excited about?

I love learning. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from successfully completing a challenge and being empowered with new skills to further my career and professional goals. I have already seen so much benefit from this program in my professional life. My skills in caring for my patients have grown substantially and I love knowing that I am having a positive impact on their health. It is extremely rewarding.

I'm also very excited to connect with my classmates again! Even though we are separated by distance, I have made great friends through this program. We cheer each other on and motivate each other to keep going. They're an amazing group to learn with!

How do you plan on tackling the challenges associated with online learning?

My days are constantly evolving. One day my children could go to bed early, giving me hours to work on assignments and the next day, a stomach flu could hit or I could end up in the hospital with my youngest daughter, leaving no time to do any classwork. I have learned to never procrastinate. I try to have the bulk of my assignments done early because I never know what the next day will bring. I also try to not rely on weekends to catch up because, with small children, it rarely happens!

I plan out weekly goals and, to the best of my ability, try to schedule in free days to spend with my family and a buffer if projects take longer than expected. My husband and I share household responsibilities but he generously carries extra load when school gets busy. I graciously accept babysitting and meal help from my in-laws and friends and, if we're being honest, I have been known to fly my mother in on occasion to help me get through finals!  

I haven't found the transition to online learning to be challenging, per se (except when my laptop died during the pandemic and nobody was open to fix it). I finished my undergrad in 2006, where very little learning was online, and wasn't sure how online learning would look, but the transition was quite easy.

I love the flexibility that online learning offers. You can start a lecture and pause it if you get pulled away and come back later. You can re-listen to lectures when reviewing material. I particularly love when courses will release large portions of their content all at once, allowing me to get ahead and giving me flexibility for unexpected illnesses or events.

Most professors are very responsive to questions by email or discussion board and they'll also arrange one-on-one phone or blackboard chats. I have found them to be readily available and easy to access. 

The biggest lesson I have learned is to not hesitate to reach out. It helps so much when you develop relationships with your professors and can see that they really are in your corner, wanting you to succeed.

What’s the best part about being a student at LDFP?

I chose to do my PharmD program with U of T for a number of reasons. I wanted to do my second degree at a different university than my first so I could experience another school's methods. U of T's reputation as one of the top pharmacy schools in the world speaks for itself. Its call for excellence and passion to raise standards of health in this country are evident and completing my PharmD from such a well-respected institution means a lot to me.  

The program is also very flexible and can be tailored to my interests, which is important as a working professional with previous clinical experience. The program is challenging and motivating, and I am extremely proud of myself for what I have accomplished so far. I love being a part of this school. I respect the high expectations it has of its students, the support I receive and its belief that anyone, including me, who applies themselves can achieve their dreams.

Is there anything that surprised you about LDFP after you started your journey here?

U of T is much bigger than previous schools I have attended. I expected to be an unknown face amongst a crowd of students and for the relationships with faculty and professors to be distanced and challenging. Nothing could be further from the truth.  

I have felt so supported by the faculty and my professors. I have received so much understanding and willingness to help however possible, considering our unique circumstances with my daughter. I have nothing but the highest praise for how supported I have been in meeting my goals.

What are you future career plans/goals?

We currently live in a remote area of Canada which offers amazing professional opportunities in a unique environment. For as long as I am here, I want to use my new skills to advance my practice to meet my community needs.  

In the future, if we leave the area, I would like to continue to practice in a hospital environment and this degree will assist in making that possible. I love hospital pharmacy and have long-term goals of becoming more specialized in a particular field of interest.

I have discovered a love for practice in infectious diseases and family practice. I also have strong interest in pediatrics and critical care and would love to grow more in those areas. To add to it, I have been told by one of my professors that I have a knack for organizational focuses like policy and procedure development. I am very open to furthering my education (i.e. Masters of Public Health or a clinical specialty) to assist in achieving these goals if it was feasible with my work and family life.

The PharmD for Pharmacists experience has been extremely challenging, but immensely rewarding. I feel like it is key to opening doors of opportunity in my career and I truly look forward to where this will take me.

Michael Saikali

PharmSci PhD candidate and PRiME fellow

What does back to school look like for you this fall?

Normally, my back to school is full of all the typical things like preparing for my classes, preparing to TA, buying new stationary that I will lose in a few days, and preparing a calendar that I will obsessively use for maybe five weeks before I give up on it. Throw in meeting the new class of pharmacy students and the new grad students, undergrads, and work-study students joining our lab, that is pretty much my fall.

This fall will obviously be different, I am entering the final stages of my degree, I have finished my course work, and of course COVID-19. On the school side, I find myself relieved to not have to take any more courses (yay!), but thinking hard about how to be an effective TA online while preparing for a semester to remember.

What are you most excited about?

This year, I am most excited about a new project that I have started thanks to a PRiME fellowship I was awarded!

PRiME is a U of T-wide initiative that aims to bring together researchers from two different fields both working on precision medicine. My project aims to uncover new ligands for nuclear receptors involved in the gut-brain axis. To do this, I will be using a mass spectrometry-based assay that I developed in the Cummins Lab (Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy) to identify where, when, and how much of each nuclear receptor is present along the gut-brain axis.

I use that information to guide where and when to look for potential endogenous ligands using a new ligand identification approach developed by the Krause Lab (Faculty of Medicine). This project will hopefully result in identifying new molecules that can serve as a basis for new therapeutics targeting nuclear receptors.

How do you plan on tackling the challenges associated with online learning?

Interestingly, I am finding myself on the other end of this challenge having finished my own coursework.

My favourite part of the fall is leading the PHM144 (Pharmacokinetics) workshops. I like the small class feel and being able to talk to the students. Not being able to meet the students in person this fall is disappointing, but I will still try to be as engaging online as I aim to be in person!

My biggest piece of advice for students this year is to use the resources that are available to you — for example TA’s, forums, tutorials — and don’t let those lectures pile up!

What’s the best part about being a student at LDFP?

I started at the LDFP as an undergraduate student in the Pharmaceutical Chemistry specialist program. It was after joining the Cummins Lab to do my undergraduate thesis project when I realized that I was not done with this place and wanted more.

The graduate students were so welcoming, and I saw a positive culture where the students all seemed to know each other and interact. I was learning a lot from the seminar series, and I enjoyed how varied the topics were.

Is there anything that surprised you about LDFP after you started your journey here?

My biggest surprise was the amount of student-driven initiatives at this faculty. We have some super dedicated students here!

The Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Student Association and the Graduate Research in Progress (GRIP) committee provide much-needed graduate extra-curricular activities and events.

It truly is amazing that on top of all the academics, pharmacy students still make time to build up the LDFP community. This is something I found unique to LDFP, as it is made so much easier with the help of our donors and the Shaping Student Life and Learning fund.

Riti Parehlad Singh

PharmD for Pharmacists program

What does back to school look like for you this fall?

I have finished all my didactic coursework for the PFP program this summer. In the fall, I will be undertaking my second last Direct Patient Care APPE (Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience) Rotation.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, I am nervous to be out there as I have children and older parents but at the same time, it is going to be a rewarding and fulfilling experience to be able to give back and join fellow colleagues in providing direct patient care. 

What are you most excited about?

Firstly, I am excited about graduating from the program in summer 2021. It is an honor to graduate from a prestigious institution like U of T and LDFP.

Secondly, I am looking forward to applying the clinical knowledge and overall skills acquired through the PFP program in my career further – both in direct and non-direct patient care setting.

How do you plan on tackling the challenges associated with online learning?

I don't see online learning as a challenge, it’s an enabler for me. We live in a digital world and need to pace ourselves accordingly. The “online learning” design within the PFP program provides flexibility to working pharmacists to complete program requirements at their own pace within the allotted four years timeframe and successfully attain a terminal degree.

It was indeed challenging to balance work, school, family, life etc. If it was not for the “online learning” model that the program offered, combined with my family’s support (spouse, parents and daughter) and flexible employer committed to continuing education (Bayshore Healthcare Specialty Rx Ltd.), I wouldn’t have been able to finish all the didactic courses and be positioned to successfully attain a doctorate degree in less than three years! There’s no way I would have achieved this if the program was offered via traditional in-person classroom setting.

What’s the best part about being a student at LDFP? Why did you choose to study here?

The best part is learning from highly clinically experienced professors, educators and clinical instructors.

Additionally, everyone is aware of the high standard and credibility that comes with studying at U of T and LDFP. Only selected students can get in and graduate, which makes it more quality-driven. It’s also the only faculty that offers an accredited PharmD for Pharmacists program.

My recent preceptors at the LDFP were incredible, they exposed me to different areas and gave me interesting projects aligned with my operational background, allowing me to add value and make a difference.

Every step of the way, I’ve felt supported. The faculty members respected and admired my vast pharmaceutical industry background (in Pharmacovigilance, Medical Information, Medical Affairs, Quality & Compliance) and the leadership roles I’ve held. No one judged me for not coming with enough direct patient care experience, but they helped me advance my clinical learning and close the learning gaps.

Is there anything that surprised you about LDFP after you started your student journey in the Faculty?

It was a challenge to come back to school and upgrade my degree to a doctorate after 20 years, but the faculty and instructors made it possible. The amount of support I had from LDFP to close my learning gaps and adopt a new learning style was incredible. 

I always had a candid discussion with my course instructors on what my learning challenges were and where I needed their support most. I found the faculty and instructors very welcoming and supportive in setting me up for success. 

What are your future career plans/goals?

My career goal is to advance to executive positions in the private sector (pharmaceutical industry), enter into academics as a clinical instructor or experiential course coordinator and give back to future students.

I also hope to get into clinical practice part-time to be able to make a difference in the life of patients.  

Hanie Yousefi

Third-year PharmSci PhD student

What does back to school look like for you this fall?

With so many activities going online, back to school this year will be a totally different experience for me and I am looking forward to experience this as a new chapter in my life. I have started yoga, and mindfulness practices over past few months, and I am going to continue supporting my body and mind during this new school year.

What are you most excited about?

I have been working on a Sars-Cov2 diagnostics project since the recent pandemic. I am now very passionate about continuing my efforts on developing the final product and offer solutions to our society for attacking the current challenge.

How do you plan on tackling the challenges associated with online learning?

I am taking advantage of so many online platforms as the world is constantly shifting in the same direction. Initiatives such as online lab books, online classrooms, and virtual meetings have created a strong infrastructure that made the transformation easier for me.

Moreover, online learning opens many doors to a larger variety of options for learning, which makes the whole process exciting. 

What’s the best part about being a grad student at LDFP? Why did you choose to study here?

I decided to join LDFP for its diverse and excellent research environment, as well as its access to a large variety of instruments and interdisciplinary collaborations.

As a chemical engineer by training, the best part of being a Pharmaceutical Sciences grad student at LDFP are the opportunities to perform multidisciplinary research. Taking advantage of my engineering background, I can propose solutions that contribute to people’s daily lives.

Is there anything that surprised you about LDFP after you started your graduate journey in the Faculty?

The close relationship between students and faculty members as mentors at LDFP surprised me after I joined the faculty. I have noticed that our mentors proactively take responsibilities to guide students in their journeys as a community, which inspires me to take similar leadership roles for our junior fellows.

What are your future career plans/goals?

By holding different roles in our faculty — such as my PhD research, teaching assistantship, and being a member of our graduate association — I am preparing to be a professor and continue my research efforts to advance rapid and effective diagnostics.

This is an area that we’re increasingly seeing as needed in our connected society, and I enjoy leading groups of young fellows to enable them to find success in their scientific and personal lives.

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