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Thesis: That Scary T-Word In University

Hi everyone, my name is Mehtab Mahal (she/her) and I am currently in my fourth year of Honours Life Sciences at McMaster University. In this blog post, I will be sharing my research journey in research throughout undergrad which finally led me to my thesis project in fourth year.

‘Defending a thesis’ is a phrase that I first heard in my first year of undergrad. I spent my whole university life being terrified and uncertain about this path, until a chance volunteer research position in second year led me from one opportunity to another through which I finally discovered my passion for the field of Geriatrics, Psychiatry and Medical Education.

I began emailing professors and healthcare professionals, including the ones that I worked or volunteered for, in the fall semester of my second year. This was a challenging phase, especially due to it being the time when COVID-19 was at peak in 2020. Not hearing back from profs, sending follow-up emails or getting emails reading “currently full” or “not accepting at the moment” became a norm for me but I tried to stay positive throughout the process and put more effort anyway because why not! I had no prior research experience while applying but don’t we all really? I kept trying and trying by taking out that one hour that one day to simply write, edit, send and repeat until I got something that could potentially become my interest. I say this because the word “interest” for an undergrad student is very daunting on its own as do we really know what our interests really are until we fill our path with opportunities? Let me put my favourite one-liner from my mom in here to boost you mid-way of my blog, that is: no guts no glory. Take that chance and that chance opportunity will come in your inbox one day for sure!

My first research project was a clinical study investigating the cardiovascular disease risk in non-diabetic, schizophrenia patients in semi-rural areas. This opportunity led me to presenting my work at two conferences in Toronto and Edinburgh, a surreal experience — truly that I did not ever imagine as an undergrad student. From here on I pushed myself even more and emailed my way through to become a research assistant in GERAS Centre for Aging Research, CAMH (Centre of Addiction and Mental Health) and RGPC (Regional Geriatric Program Central). Fast forward to 2022, I landed into a thesis project that ended being a unique blend of all my interests combined- Geriatrics, Psychiatry, Healthcare Delivery and Education. My thesis project changed my perspective about research as earlier my hesitancy and uncertainty towards dedicated research stemmed from my lack of knowledge and awareness about both the value and diversity of research in the scientific community. With time I learnt that through effort, perseverance and self-reflection, the path that one paves with opportunities can, indeed, lead them to where they belong in the end. I am grateful that I took on the thesis path under the supervision of Dr. Levinson as it not only solidified my passion for the field of Geriatrics and Psychiatry but also made me find my niche where I hope to grow academically, professionally and personally. Following are some tips that can potentially help you find your direction:

  1. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking too much about the future.

  2. Begin looking for potential research supervisors through institutions/centres. For example, at McMaster there is GERAS Centre for Aging Research, Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute, PHRI- Population Health Research Institute, Offord Centre of Child Studies and the list goes on. Explore their websites, their work and then email researchers whose work aligns with your interests.

  3. Take out that one hour and make an effort.

  4. Believe in yourself first!

  5. That rejection is not indicative of your aptitude and potential!! We all first from point 0.

  6. No guts no glory ☺

Thank you for reading! All the best ☺

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