My Summer of Science

I have just returned home from the UK by the time I am writing this. The last month has been a whirlwind of growth and hard work, blowing past goals and milestones that I had set for myself when I landed and adding many more along the way. I’ve spent the last part of my time here collaborating on a fascinating new project in molecular modelling that allowed me to put my coding and computer skills to the test with a dash of creativity and problem-solving to make it’s completion even more fulfilling. This experience has opened my eyes to an entire area of research and discovery that I didn’t even know existed, let alone be immersed in and love every second of.

Signing the guestbook at E.A. Bowles' gardens, surrounded by old data logs and historic documents

Signing the guestbook at E.A. Bowles’ gardens, surrounded by old data logs, photos and historic documents

One of my personal goals here was to explore what it was really like to apply myself in a functional lab setting.  I’ve always been keen to take things apart, build them back up, question everything and strive to decode the intricacies of the world around me. Since I was a kid I’ve always known that I wanted to “do science”. Even though that goal was nebulous and probably written in crayon at the time, I never really lost my motivation towards the idea of scientific exploration. I’ll never give up on being a backyard scientist (sorry mom and dad), but it was incredible to be entrusted with a real task or problem – something beyond just my own curiosity – and be allowed to funnel my energy into solving or creating something tangible with the resources I needed. I feel so lucky to be part of the GSC program looking back. My time as a GSC participant helped crystallize the fact that scientific research is what I’ve always wanted to do, and in one summer has helped imbue my passion for the future.

Fascinating talk on immunotherapy & cancer genome evolution with UCL

Fascinating free talk on immunotherapy and cancer genome evolution. One of many available for students of all faculties at UCL.

It’s also amazing to me that I’ll be starting the next semester and my final stretch of my undergrad in less than a week’s time. Even though I’ve been working hard all summer, I feel like I’ve come out of this experience even more excited, curious and driven than when I started.  

I really would like to thank my supervisor and mentor Dr. Shozeb Haider for seeing in me someone who wanted to be challenged, and trusting me to be able to meet the challenge head on given the outlet. I also wanted to thank the amazing friends and colleagues that I had the honour of sharing my summer of science with – your passion, ideas and friendship made this one of the best summers of my life. And lastly I want to thank everyone at Ryerson and UCL involved in the GSC program for organizing this entire endeavour and allowing me to fulfill my dreams on behalf of the school I’m proud to call my home. I can’t wait to share more about my research, and I hope you’ve enjoyed following me and my UK journey as a GSC ambassador. 

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.