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Archives: Global Science Citizen Program Introduction

Yes Man.

If you’ve ever watched the movie “Yes Man”, you know what I am talking about. If not, I recommend it if you need a good laugh. In short, it is about a man who literally says “Yes” to every thing that is presented to him. I have lived my summer in London this way for the most part, and it has done nothing but brought me happiness.


My yes man attitude has led me to insights and awareness when it comes to research. For example, techniques not necessarily relevant or useful to my work I have learned about when training sessions were being taught just for my own knowledge. And now I feel confident as ever in the lab, and comfortable knowing what machine to use to achieve what piece of information in my research puzzle.

20x magnification of one of my solutions containing particles of my polymer


Another example of my so called yes man attitude has led me across the United Kingdom.

Whether it be spending a night out in London,

International students from the UCL School of Pharmacy taking over the night bus.

going on a hike with a couple of my PhD colleagues


Reading, England.

or experiencing the roaring wind on the Isle of Wight.

“The Needles” one of the sights to see on the Isle of Wight, UK.

These experiences and many more I have had all came about through a suggestion by a friend, a colleague, a stranger. And without thought, I just said “yes”.


The most prevalent example of my Yes Man attitude, however, was when I met a man from New York who goes by the name of Sep. The story of our friendship is an interesting one, which added a quite interesting dynamic to my life. Essentially he was on a Eurotrip and had a stop in London. I met him on a Tuesday, then again on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before he left the U.K. and continued on his journey to Amsterdam. We remained in contact because of the fun week we had spent together. It was nice and I felt so comfortable with someone I had known for such a short period of time. It was also a nice feel of home hanging out with someone from North America who can naturally understand my slang or my pop culture references (haha).

Two weeks after we met, Sep’s journey took him to Paris, France. And two weeks after we met I traveled to meet up with Sep in Paris, France. (yep.)

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France. L: Me, R: Sep.


Why have I acted this way though? Well, why not? This has done me no harm, all that my Yes Man attitude has shown me is that no one is out to get you. And as crazy it or I may seem, I have experienced true happiness during my summer in Europe and it is all thanks to the places I have been, the people I have met and the knowledge I have gained. I have caught myself at times sitting in these places silently and just being present in the moment. I feel the sun kiss my skin, listen to the snippets of foreign conversations that are being spoken around me, allow the smell of a fresh croissant gage my taste buds. I have no worries in these moments and I feel as if time is non-existent.

Knowledge, insight, a story to tell, a new friend, a lover, happiness. If I have learned anything from these past couple of weeks it is that everything and everyone adds something to your life and has something to offer.  Take risks, and believe in what you believe in.


Yours truly, from the U.K.,

— Kelvin


Self Reflection


Dear Reader

Hello, if you are reading this welcome to my first blog post. I am Kelvin Urbina. I am a 20 year old B.Sc candidate in chemistry at Ryerson University. I am participating on a university exchange in which I am conducting research in pharmacy from May 3rd – August 25th at the University College London (UCL) in London, England. I hope you find this blog post and others I post relatable in some aspects and inspirational in others.


Self Reflection

Do you know how university teaches you things in addition to the actual knowledge you are learning? For example, one learns how to effectively manage their time, as it may be like do or die if you cannot. You learn how to balance your life in a variety of different aspects such as being able to work, have time for yourself, and see your friends. My experience abroad in London may be compared to being a university student back in Toronto in that sense. I find myself being so open to new experiences, open to meeting new people, and being so very unapologetically myself. I frequently take time to self-reflect on what I had experienced that day, what I felt, why I felt that way, and so on. I am able to see the beauty in every experience and every person I meet. I feel at peace.

Stay tuned for further blog posts where I will discuss what a blessing this experience has been so far in different aspects of science, the friends I have made, and the culture.

With love, from the United Kingdom,

— Kelvin







By: Michel Kiflen
Biomedical Science, 3rd year

“Life, in it’s most fundamental sense, is a good design of polymers”, was how I started my 2017 University Rover Challenge (URC) presentation at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah desert.

Backtrack to the middle of summer 2016, I received an email from the Ryerson Rams Robotics (R3), a group of engineering students interested in building a Mars rover as as per the submission to the international URC competition. One of the requirements for the rover was to extract a soil sample and analyze it for evidence of life. Since as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the possibility, regardless of the probability, that there could be other life forms waiting to be uncovered. R3’s email reignited childhood memories and sparked my curiosity and imagination.

Part of the URC required the rover to first, autonomously extract a soil sample, conduct probe tests (e.g. pH, electrical conductivity, temperature, humidity, etc.), and store the cache. Second, the rover had to secure the soil cache until further manual tests can be conducted at the command station. The idea behind the science task was to simulate a Mars mission with the goal of  detecting life.

As one of the Science Leads of R3, I was given the responsibility to work with other engineers in the team to solve these two parts. However, this was a greater challenge that I anticipated, since the URC committee required the whole process be done in 20 minutes. To combat this issue, I sought the advice of Ryerson faculty and graduate students, most notably Dr. Kim Gilbride, Amir Tehrani, and other members of the Gilbride lab. Through the collaborative efforts of faculty, science students, engineers, and many others, we successfully created an automated module capable of soil extraction via an auger bit, probe tests, and sterile storage orchestrated by a robotic arm. Additionally, we were able to quantify DNA/RNA/protein content, as well as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur, and potassium levels, all within 20 minutes.

From left to right, Michel Kiflen, Daniel Cresta, Karan Guglani, and Hamza Mahdi performing tests at the command station to find evidence of life. Picture courtesy of Daniel Snider.

After the rover and corresponding tests were completed, we flew to Salt Lake City, Utah and drove south to the MDRS, located in Hanksville, Utah. This region is one of the closest representations of the red planet. Reaching the MDRS is impossible without a vehicle. The entry is barred with many peaks and hills, with a single path intertwined between the terrain. It is easily one of the most remote, and extreme places I have visited. There is no cellphone service for kilometres and the closest clinic is a 90 minute helicopter ride away. Temperatures reach upwards of 40 ºC, making everyone vulnerable to severe heat exposure.

Michel standing in front of the mountains en route from Salt Lake City to the MDRS in Utah.


Nevertheless, we setup our mobile lab in the back of our trucks, whether we were in the arid desert or in the parking lot of our hotel, continuously practicing and timing our tests days leading up to the competition. Internet connection wasn’t very reliable, as a result, we printed as many articles and papers beforehand. After many trials and sleepless nights, our time to present had come.

“Life, in it’s most fundamental sense, is a good design of polymers”.


After a series of questions and comments from the judges, we scored 11th place, worldwide.

I believe our success at the URC was because all of us, engineers and science students, are truly passionate about the programs we are in. We had a keen interest to apply our learnt skill sets from the classroom to applications such as programming, building, and experimenting. I have been in the biomedical science program at Ryerson University for three years, and personally, I have found that it is far more than the typical life sciences program. It comprises of courses that require critical and innovative thinking, demonstrated by the non-traditional courses we are required to take such as experimental design and full-lab courses. Participating in the URC added an additional layer of application to my current skill set. Translating three years of theoretical knowledge about molecular biology to a 20 minute assays was pushing the boundaries of novel thinking, and I anticipate on extending my knowledge even further as I continue to grow and undertake more projects. I believe bridging the biomedical science program and initiatives such as these has, and will continue to provide the tools required to be successful in any task ahead.

As we packed our Rover back to Ryerson University and conducted a postmortem of our scores, I looked back at how participating in a challenge this large affects one’s learning. I have a strong biological research background, however, I lacked dexterity in robotics almost entirely. Joining this team allowed everyone, including myself to work in an interdisciplinary manner where our strengths are amplified. I learnt many engineering concepts such as materials physics when the team researched different building materials for the Rover. Additionally, I have a more thorough understanding of how our rover was programmed and how we communicated with the probe sensors when it was actively digging for soil in Utah. Next year, I plan to learn more about the Rover’s drive design. One of the tests it needs to withstand is movement in Marian terrain, hence, I would like to contribute to the construction of the frame. Working on this Rover under R3 is the largest project and leadership role I have undertaken in terms of work output and number of collaborators. It has therefore demanded a certain scheme to approach tasks. I learnt to keep a more rigorous calendar and schedule to ensure I am in sync with all four teams under R3. I have also developed stronger communication skills since I had to discuss this challenge with many of our faculty members and graduate students.

Michel beside the R3’s Rover.

For my concluding remarks, I would like to mention that if you have the opportunity to participate in activities that come with huge challenges, you definitely should – you must. The experience of meeting students outside my faculty, let alone students from universities all around the world puts common interests and central themes into perspective. As for the URC, it is Mars and its eventual colonization. Mars is the future. My motivation to write an email to R3 was because I believe Mars is the next challenge that we need to tackle, and opportunities such as these contribute to the larger goal beyond all of us. We should strive for boundless human endeavour. From the dawn of human existence ~300,000 years ago, there is an intrinsic feeling, a motivation to explore and a craving to seek beyond the horizon. It is this ‘essential instinctual element’ that allowed us to disperse out of Africa and later cross the Beringian land bridge. Mars’ mystery represents fascination and excitement that extends beyond anything anyone has done.

“Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds promising untold opportunities — beckon. Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting.”
– Carl Sagan



Benjamin’s Exchange at Wageningen University – Netherlands

Author: Benjamin Oczkowski


Hello! My name is Benjamin, I’m a 4th year Environmental Biology student at Ryerson and I’m on exchange at Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands! In this post I’m going to share some of my experiences on exchange so far.

Pre-Departure Jitters

I will admit, prior to arrival I was on edge – the process of applying, sending documents, obtaining a residency permit, finding housing etc. was a little bit stressful. Communication with WUR was difficult due to the time change and part-time hours of the exchange coordinators. It seemed like everything was done very last minute and at the time, I was a little freaked out. Now that I am here I can see this reflects the laid-back lifestyle lead here in the Netherlands. Although stressful, it all worked out in the end and I’m glad I stuck with it!

Arrival and Adjusting to Dutch Life

I arrived to Wageningen on January 2, 2017 – what a way to start the new year!  I moved into my room in “Stadsbrink”, one of the many student housing complexes here, without a hitch! Here I have a private room sharing kitchen/living facilities with 11 other students with a variety of nationalities (Chilean, German, Indonesian and Mexican to name a few). My building is only a few minutes walk to the historic Wageningen city centre. The city centre is very compact, centred around a pedestrian only cobblestone street (“Hoogstraat”). Although small, the centre has anything you could need: restaurants, grocery stores, retail etc. Twice a week there is a farmers market in the market square surrounding the “Grote Kerk” (translated to literally “Big Church”).

Saturday Market Wageningen

The Dutch language has posed a bit of a challenge. For instance, bus and train announcements are often only in Dutch and I only know what I am buying at the grocery store 50% of the time (I’ve been looking for salted butter for 2 months). My attempts of learning Dutch have been pretty fruitless. Pronunciation for me is proving nearly impossible. It took me a few weeks to even say “Wageningen” properly (kind of like “va-ha-ning-a” with a toothpick caught in your throat). Luckily everyone under the age of 50 speaks practically perfect English! That being said, being surrounded by the language I have picked some up subconsciously – I can now travel no problem and can read most menus. It’s a strange language, but its growing on me!



Being an Exchange Student

New “Buddy Group” friends exploring Utrecht. (Left: Brady Rogers, Centre: Gendel Militar, Right: Benjamin Oczkowski)

Before arrival, the university assigns you into a “Buddy Group” of about 10 international students and 2-3 “Buddy Leaders”. My buddy leaders were great about organizing events within the first weeks of arrival so that we could make connections with other exchange students right away! They were also very helpful answering any questions I had about life in Wageningen, school, travelling and more. Also, the International Exchange Erasmus Student Network (IxESN) hosted many events in the first weeks for all buddy groups including dinners, dancing, karaoke, day trips etc. which were always fun and very inclusive. Even a few months in, there are still events for exchange students at least once a week. With over 25% international students at WUR, being an exchange student is a breeze!


Academics at WUR

Enschede Kristalbad biological water treatment field visited during an excursion.

The most common question I get asked both by students here and friends back home is how does education compare between WUR and Ryerson. Overall I think it is very comparable; however, it is hard to judge as the WUR system is quite a bit different than Ryerson’s. Instead of semesters, the year is split into 6 periods which are 4 or 7 weeks, where students take 1 or 2 classes at a time. Classes typically have a lecture, group work and practical component. This means even if you are taking only one class you can expect to have 3-6 hours of class per day. “Excursions” (or field trips) are also very common here, some classes having weekly outings. This is a great opportunity to see how what you are learning could be applied in the community.

Lesser Meal Worms from “Insects as Food and Feed” laboratory.

The facilities at WUR are incredible – most buildings are very new with state of the art equipment and labs. Wageningen is nicknamed “city of life sciences” as WUR (and other companies) is heavily focused on environmental and agricultural studies. This also means a wide variety of course options and experts in these fields teaching at WUR. So far I have completed the class “Insects as food and feed” where I was taught all about insect farming; something I didn’t know I was interested in. And no, I didn’t eat any bugs but I might try them now! Currently I’m taking the class “Water Quality” which looks at issues surrounding fresh water systems. This course is very calculation heavy but it’s interesting getting to dive into real world water issues and try modelling software I’ve not yet been exposed to.

Overall I am very happy with my exchange so far in Wageningen and can’t wait to see what the next few months bring!

Until next time,

Benjamin Oczkowski.


In India with Alternative Spring Break (ASB)– by Daniel Cresta

The following is a journal entry written during the second week ASB Ryerson’s 2016 India Project:

May 16, 2016 – Marayoor, Kerala

It’s been just under two weeks since arriving in India with my team. So far, the experience has been unlike anything I could have imagined. I wanted to summarize what that experience has been like up to this point.

After arriving in India, the team stayed in a hostel while we waited to get moved to the project site. During this time, we enjoyed all the things any tourist would have. From indulging in the local food to boating through the backwaters, it was a memorable few days. Once our other accommodations were settled we travelled to the project site by bus.

We are currently being hosted by a convent in Marayoor, Kerala. We are about 3400 feet above mean sea level and yet, we are surrounded by mountains in all directions. The world is a beautiful place and pictures cannot always do its beauty justice. As someone who has lived in the GTA their whole life, I continue to be overwhelmed.

Our project consists of building seven latrines in a small local community that is in dire need of sanitation facilities. We have been working alongside the local masons using their tools and methods. I have never worked so hard in my life. My body aches and my resolve has been tested more than ever. We work about seven hours a day in the blazing sun breaking and carrying rocks, digging seven foot holes with pickaxe and shovel, and bricklaying with cement we mix by hand. The masons we work with are incredibly skilled laborers. It takes a lifetime to master what they do and the skills are passed down the generations.

I have always been one to push myself, and I have been pushing myself harder than ever here. I feel more fit than any workout routine could have made me in two weeks and I can say that I am a stronger person for doing this. Even more so mentally than physically. Furthermore, I have learned how to work better in a team, communicate across language barriers, and understand how to be a more critical problem solver.

A few days ago, I went to work on the other project site alongside two of my other team members, one of them an engineering student here at Ryerson. Here, we were working on a solar light installation project for a community in a massive tea plantation atop a mountain. They are subject to long and frequent power outages and having a small power reserve to keep bulbs lit in emergency situations can be lifesaving. My group installed seven solar kits in the span of three days, two for hospitals and the rest for schools and daycares. The goal is to install twenty-seven by the end of the month. I had the opportunity to wire, install, and test these kits. When they lit up, so did the locals. These people, this community, they have light now. Long after we leave they will still have light.

I had the chance to visit one of the hospitals and speak to the community doctor, welfare officer, and general manager of the whole plantation. I learned that this one doctor was the only doctor on the planation. He runs six hospitals by himself. His daily rounds are done over miles of dirt roads on a motorcycle as he visits each hospital to treat his patients. This was so inspiration for someone who hopes to enter the medical field, such as myself. The welfare officer asked me for advice on how to improve their hospitals. This was an incredible honor and I will be doing my best to keep in touch with him before departing.

The next two weeks here will involve finishing the construction of the latrines. As difficult as the work is, there is much to look forward to. When the construction is complete the community will have something vital for their health that, if done right, will last them many years to come.




The Power of a New Environment

The summer weather has been picture-perfect since my last post, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Work in the lab has been intense, which fortunately for me is exactly what I signed up for! I’ve been eagerly trying to learn as much as possible and delve into as many topics as I can during my time here, so I’ve taken on a new project working with homology modelling and the visualization of protein mutations. I’ve been putting my python skills to the test and honing my abilities in the context of a real, cutting-edge research environment.

My train home leaving the station

My train home leaving the station

With regards to how environment affects me, the chance I’ve been given to hop into daily life in a completely new country is one that I absolutely don’t take for granted.  There’s an undeniable invigoration I feel when submerged into the complex layering of textures, sights, sounds and flavours of a place I’ve never been. London is also just one of those cities that everyone should visit if given the chance, especially if you’re like me and can’t escape the need to explore and discover in the hopes of enriching your life with new and lasting memories.

The cat that greets me every morning on my way to the lab

The cat that greets me every morning on my way to the lab

I’ve also been given the chance to step into the shoes of a UCL and School of Pharmacy student as well as a flag-flying Ryersonian, giving me the unique opportunity to be part of two awesome schools at the same time. Ryerson’s meteoric rise over the past few decades and the inventive ways we’ve taken Toronto, whether it’s the people, cultures or places around us, and augmented and incorporated them as resources for education make me proud to be a student. I find that though UCL is far older as an establishment in comparison, the same passion for openness of culture and oneness with the city it is part of has never been forgotten. 

I’ve learned during my time here and at home that the best schools and environments for discovery don’t live within a vacuum in their surroundings. Instead, it’s embracing rather than rejecting the richness, history and combined human experiences of our cities that helps make our schools as exciting and innovative as they are. On a personal level, the bus I take each morning has a second floor at the height of the trees that line the roads. It rides right through the heart of London to Euston station, and I’ve found that some of the best breakthroughs in my projects have come to me while meditatively watching the city rush by – taking it all in and getting lost in a new world, only to find what I was looking for.  

Until next time,


Discovering Our Global Science Community

Summer is in full swing here in London, and everyone is seizing the opportunity to spend as much time outside as possible. The past few weeks have been filled with new ideas, discovery, and exploration in the lab as well as in the city.

I have been welcomed with open arms by a fantastic group of post-grad and doctoral students from across Asia and Europe, finding common ground in the School of Pharmacy as our home-away-from-home and a constant environment of high energy, passion, and comradery. It has been great meeting students from the Erasmus program, which not unlike the GSC program has global togetherness at its core with the goal of expanding our scholastic and cultural boundaries. The School of Pharmacy also overwhelmingly holds these values to heart, and I feel so lucky every day to be among people that have all been brought together for science but have built real friendships and memories in the process.

Enjoying a break with other students at the Brunswick Square Gardens

Enjoying a lunch break with other students at the Brunswick Square Gardens

We also have a lot of fun here in London! Every lunch, weekend or after a long day in the lab, one of us has proposed an outing or get together – and it has been a blast getting to know the city with fellow first-timers. Sharing phrases and cultural foods from our hometowns at our international potlucks (A very Canadian term apparently!) or learning about customs, art, and history from the European and Asian delegates at the local museums have both been exciting experiences unique to the opportunity of being here.

My research area has expanded, and I’ve been eagerly learning new software, coding in new languages and exploring new techniques every week. I definitely thrive in an environment where I can work hands-on to solve problems and collaborate with others, and every day is full of excitement and activity. I love everything I’ve been able to partake in, and I can’t wait to learn more!


My First Experiences as a Global Science Citizen

As this is my first post, I may as well give you all an introduction into what this blog is about, who I am, and why I’ve made my way across the ocean to spend summer at school!

My name is James, I am a Ryerson Undergraduate Biology student and living in London, England for the summer as an inaugural member of the Global Science Citizen (GSC) program. See here for more information regarding my involvement and the vision of the GSC program.

The sun is shining at the UCL School of Pharmacy

The sun is shining at the UCL School of Pharmacy

Today has been another glorious “London” day, which seem to dance the fine line between sudden downpours and awe-inspiring, glistening vistas when the sun peeks out to light up the city. The excitement that comes with experiencing a new place is undoubtedly a perk of the GSC program, but only scratches the surface.

I am currently working, learning and experimenting in the drug discovery lab supervised by Dr. Shozeb Haider at the University College London School of Pharmacy.

Human Telomeric Quadruplex found by UCL Professors

Computer Model in Pymol of 1KF1 Human Telomeric Quadruplex DNA

I have taken a personal interest in G-Quadruplex DNA, particularly with regards to the discovery and application of new medical therapies. One key goal of current research into G-Quadruplex DNA is to decode and harness its role in biological processes, as well as its involvement when those processes malfunction – like in the mutation and rampant division of cancerous cells.

I work in a lab with a group of Post Grad students, all working with Dr. Haider on separate computational modeling and bioinformatics projects. Currently, there are 3 students from China, one from Iran and one from the US. They’re brilliant and hardworking people, all with their own stories, passions, and experiences. In its own fantastic way, the group we have here stands as a microcosm of the intent of the GSC program – students uniting from all parts of the world, far from politics or prejudice, working together to make the world a better place through science and education.

Reading up on Quadruplex formalism

In the Lab, reading up on Quadruplex Structures

One of the most exciting and unique aspects of the GSC experience so far has been working with and around some of the leading doctors and researchers on my topic. It’s impossible to not be beyond motivated in the company I find myself in, and the passionate and cooperative environment I have been so lucky to be part of. It also feels pretty awesome to turn to books and papers penned by my supervisor and his colleagues, or to have an ongoing correspondence with researchers that designed the framework my research is based on.

The opportunity to work on a leading-edge topic with emerging computational techniques and latest technology has been truly life-changing, and the Global Science Citizen program has made my involvement possible.

I can’t wait to share more of my experiences and adventures here in the weeks to come, I hope you have as much fun as I do!

– James

Global Science Citizen (GSC) Program – Faculty of Science, Ryerson University

An exciting new research exchange agreement has  been signed with the University College London (UCL) and Ryerson University between the School of Pharmacy and the Department of Chemistry & Biology, Physics (Medical Physics), and Ryerson to facilitate the reciprocal exchange for visiting Pharmacy students engaged in pharmacy related research projects and research related learning experiences/projects for students within the Faculty of Science – Ryerson.

Global Science Citizen (GSC) Program

The newly created brand ‘Global Science Citizen (GSC)’ program endeavours to promote, develop and recognize the student who

  • is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world University College London (1827-9), by William Wilkins and J Gandy Deeringcitizen
  • respects and values diversity
  • has an understanding of how the world works
  • is outraged by social injustice
  • participates in the community at a range of levels, from the local to the global
  • is willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place

As an international student enrolled in science disciplines the Global Science Citizen will develop a better awareness, understanding and recognition of the value science has during the international study experience. This will help to develop active learning methods, cross-cultural learning and critical thinking skills important to address global science challenges influencing our world today.

UCL 1The inaugural outbound experience and Global Science Citizen (GSC) student – James Burns – undergraduate biology student is spending a summer at the University of College London (UCL) conducting undergraduate research under the supervision of Dr. Shozeb Haider – a UCL excellence fellow in computational medicinal chemistry.

On behalf of the Faculty of Science we wish you well with your experiential learning while enjoying the new and exciting sites of London, England!

Looking forward to hearing more from the first GSC Ambassador.