JEP PhD Student, Molecular Genetics
University of Hong Kong (lead) / University of Toronto (collaborator)
During the final year of my undergraduate study at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), I was given an opportunity to do a research project in the department of Biochemistry, where I developed an interest in virology. After completing my master's there, I began doctoral studies on a Joint Educational Placement (JEP) between HKU and the University of Toronto. My studies have been funded in part by two scholarships from Hong Kong, namely the Postgraduate Scholarship and Lee Wing Tat Medical Research Fund.
For my PhD, I am studying how the Epstein-Barr virus affects genome stability by manipulating its host's DNA damage response. A reduction in genomic stability will result in mutations and chromosome rearrangements, which is usually associated with cancer development. Through this study, I am hoping to better understand how the Epstein-Barr virus can lead to cancers. I have always been interested in understanding the interaction between viruses and the human body. Also, some cancers associated with the Epstein-Barr virus are rare in most parts of the world but common in southern China, especially in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Because of this, I really want to know more about this virus and the mechanism by which it stimulates cancer development.
I wanted to do a JEP because I believe working in a foreign laboratory, learning new research techniques and working with different people can boost my academic career. Through studying abroad, I also hoped to build up my network and engage with other cultures.
I chose HKU as the lead institution for my JEP since I was most familiar with this university and I have been working with my HKU supervisor for more than five years through different projects. I chose U of T because it is renowned for its high standard of research and I wanted the experience of being part of the U of T research team. The greatest asset of U of T is the knowledge-rich environment and the affiliation with top-class hospitals and research institutes.
There are always experts I can rely on whenever I encounter research questions. The cultural diversity in U of T is also notable, and it makes me feel very comfortable as an international student.
The greatest benefit of doing a JEP is the ability to incorporate different approaches to my study and gain the perspectives of different institutions. The greatest challenge is to balance the differences in the education system between the two institutions. The program requirements and expectations are very different at both universities, so my supervisors and I have to work hard to make sure everyone involved is satisfied.
My advice to prospective students is to expand your world: take a step out of the comfort zone and do not be afraid of trying something new. By working in an unfamiliar environment and meeting new people, you find out who you are truly capable of becoming.
JEP PhD Student, Germanic Languages and Literatures
University of Toronto (lead) / Hebrew University of Jerusalem (collaborator)
My PhD is a Joint Educational Placement (JEP) program, with the University of Toronto (where I did my undergraduate in Celtic Studies and Jewish Studies) as my lead institution and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (where I earned my MA in Folklore and Folk Culture) as my collaborator institution. At the University of Toronto I am enrolled in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures' new Yiddish field PhD and the Collaborative Program in Jewish Studies. At Hebrew University I am enrolled in the Folklore and Folk Culture Program. Thus, I am part of three academic communities, working with excellent professors as well as colleagues in all of them.
For my PhD, I am following my interest in the connection between minority languages, identity, and personal narratives. We tell ourselves, and others, stories of our lives all the time, whether anecdotes about our career paths, or a personal history when meeting someone new. I am particularly interested in the ways individual and communal identities are expressed in personal narratives. I am exploring the life stories of Yiddish-speaking immigrants who moved from Eastern Europe to Canada, and how immigrants' descriptions of their new home reveal their assumptions of how societies should operate.
The key to putting this program in place was having two advisors, Anna Shternshis at U of T and Dani Schrire at Hebrew U, who supported not only my research ideas but also my vision of this program. The JEP enables me to work closely with experts in the fields of Yiddish culture, Jewish folklore, oral history, migration, Canadian history, etc., and to have access to the wide variety of resources I need: Canadian archives, various Jewish archives, and two extensive library networks. I also participate in activities that each institution provides for their graduate students: colloquia, fellowships, professionalization opportunities, and so on. Toronto is a vibrant city, and a lot of that vibrancy is felt in the University. The University houses a number of important institutions which host exciting events and speakers. A highlight of being here is attending these events, hearing experts in various fields from all over the world talk about their research, and participating in discussions about current scholarship.
Once I complete my PhD, I plan on continuing my research in personal narratives, migrant experiences, and minority languages, and teaching. But I also hope to take my work beyond the university. I hope to make Yiddish language material accessible to the descendants of Yiddish speakers, most of whom do not speak the language, as well as work with others to help understand the complicated ways people relate to, discuss, and interact with their families' migrant pasts.
Augustin Le Bouquin
JEP PhD Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Université de Lyon (lead) / University of Toronto (collaborator)
During my previous course of study at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, I studied the epigenetics of wasps in the Netherlands, the learning behaviour of honeybees in Toulouse (France), and the evolution of development in water striders. After that, in the same lab in Lyon, I worked for a year to prepare for my PhD, which I started this year as a Joint Educational Placement (JEP) between France and the University of Toronto.
I was very keen to have a life experience abroad and as soon as possible. I was also, at the same time, scared of leaving for several years for my PhD. The JEP solved this because I will be back and forth during the PhD. Canada will be a new place where I can live out new personal experiences and meet new people, yet I will still have opportunities to go back to Lyon.
The École Normale Supérieure de Lyon / Université de Lyon is the lead institution for my PhD, and U of T is the collaborator. In terms of academic study, these two universities, departments and labs are very complementary. The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is more focused on ecology and evolution at the macroscopic selection level, and in Lyon the department is well-known for molecular evolution, genetics, and development. These different kinds of expertise exactly fit the different approaches of my PhD project. I am studying the evolution of a particular genus of water strider, Rheumatobates, in which a variety of elaborate traits in males have evolved quickly in response to sexual conflict. I address the origin, function, and developmental genetics of these traits.
The JEP is valuable for conducting interdisciplinary scientific research, and interacting with people from different backgrounds. Each department is known for different fields of expertise, and a JEP allows students to enjoy two of them.
I also like to see difference between the two cultures of just how to do science. For example, in Lyon work is more organized around the team. I am more aware of others' problems and projects on a day-to-day basis. In Toronto, I am more free, more independent. I discuss questions with my supervisor, Locke Rowe, and I also interact more with different people about theoretical or conceptual questions here in Toronto.
The coursework at U of T is very strong, and rigorous. I took a course in molecular evolution and I have to say after that class I knew how to use the tools and perform analysis. In Lyon, courses in the master's program were a bit more theoretical and they expected us to learn more about practice during the internship. There is also the fact that at U of T I have had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant, which isn't the case in Lyon. I think that PhD students in France should be more encouraged to TA.
I love to be able to practise English in a country where it is most people's first language. The only thing that is really challenging is to live at two different places at the same time without real long-term planning. But I have been helped a lot by my supervisors: the University of Toronto is very good with its JEP students. It has been an amazing experience so far, both personally and scientifically.
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