Sept. 4, 2020

Lab experience teaches undergrad new ways of seeing datasets

In Ward of the 21 Century summer student program, Syed Rizvi learns more about research — and himself

Third-year health sciences undergrad Syed Rizvi was looking to diversify his skills in a hands-on learning environment.

So he applied for the Alberta Innovates Summer Research Studentship (SRS) and Ward of the 21 Century’s (W21C) Summer Student Program offered at the University of Calgary. The experience has been more than rewarding — he connected with a supervisor, benefited from mentorship, and contributed to an important health-care research project.

For much of the summer, Rizvi checked and organized datasets, learning new ways of looking at data in the research lab. “No dataset is ever the same,” says Rizvi, who thrives on having an experienced team around him to consult with and teach him other creative methods of coding data samples.    

“I am reflecting all the time on what I do,” says Rizvi.

Opportunities like the studentship are complementary to academic learning because the classroom can look very different than the field, he says. “In the classroom, we always had perfect samples, and there was a clear way to approach the samples,” says Rizvi. “In the field, there are no perfect samples, and the process is not so black and white.”

Supervisors as mentors

The studentship gives students an opportunity to bring forward their ideas and determine their own learning journey in a flexible and creative environment. Supervising Rizvi’s studentship was UCalgary alumna Wrechelle Ocampo, BSc’09, MBT’13, a research associate with the W21C Research and Innovation Centre.

In 2013, Ocampo was in Rizvi’s shoes as a W21C summer student working with Calgary Laboratory Services in anatomic pathology for her summer project. Ocampo says, "Based on my experience as a previous student versus now as a supervisor, I try to make sure Rizvi gets the best experience by staying involved in all aspects and components of what he is learning."

Rizvi and Ocampo are assisting Dr. Jenine Leal, PhD, an assistant professor in the departments of Community Health Sciences and Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and an infection prevention and control epidemiologist. Their research focuses on determining the impact of probiotics on preventing hospital-acquired Clostridioides difficile infections among hospitalized patients over the age of 55 years.

Leal and Ocampo work to ensure Rizvi gets the most out of his summer in the lab. “The studentship is very valuable to researchers,” says Leal. “It connects us with high caliber students who come with various degrees and backgrounds, who want to learn and are keen to apply their skills.”

Rizvi continues to be the central player in his learning

Part of what makes learning enjoyable is that it is also memorable.

Although learning does not necessarily end when class does, at the end of the studentship, Rizvi will look upon his learning experiences to help guide his career choice after university. “I am always looking for experiences because I get to find out what I like and what I do not like.”

Volunteering on research projects, experiencing different health-care environments, and reaching out to faculty with similar interests, are all part of getting students to think about attaining experience outside the academic environment and encouraging them to step outside their comfort zone. Leal adds, “It takes time to find a good fit, and students need to take that time to recognize their interests.”  

The W21C Research and Innovation Centre is a healthcare systems research and innovation initiative based in the University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health, at the Cumming School of Medicine and the Calgary Zone of Alberta Health Services (AHS). W21C serves as a research and beta test site for exemplary hospital design, novel approaches to health-care delivery, human factors research, and innovative medical technologies.

Syed Rizvi

Syed Rizvi