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Source: University of Toronto

PhD candidate takes U of T to heartStudent finds passion in teaching, research and learning from mentor

October 24, 2006

Nesime Askin was a fourth year physiology student on the St. George campus when a review paper she wrote for a course changed her life.

First, she found she liked the topic so much ó how estrogen affects skeletal muscle metabolism ó she decided to go into research and complete a masterís degree in skeletal muscle physiology at U of T. Second, while working on the paper Askin had a chance to get to know her course instructor, Professor Carin Wittnich.

"She was basically my inspiration to do grad work because at that point, I really didnít know what I was going to do in terms of a career," said Askin, now pursuing a PhD in skeletal muscle physiology as part of the cardiovascular sciences collaborative program. "She was able to see a student and say, ĎThatís a hard working student whoís able to produce. I can use her in my lab.í If I hadnít taken that class, I probably wouldnít be where I am today, with the [curriculum vitae] I have today."

As the School of Graduate Studies prepares for a major expansion in graduate enrolment, Askinís graduate student experience serves as a useful illustration and reminder of the strengths of U of Tís graduate programs, including the potential to work with leading scholars and researchers.

"People from all over the world come to U of T to do their research here so why would I want to leave?" said Askin, reflecting her thinking as she contemplated her options for pursing her PhD. "Iím now working with a leading cardiovascular scientist who is an expert on the effects of male and female sex hormones on heart function and metabolism."

Askin is equally interested in teaching and she credits graduate school with helping her develop her teaching skills. She has served as a teaching assistant for both physiology and zoology courses and has gained some experience in curriculum development by working with Wittnich to produce a new course on marine mammal physiology.

"To see from start to finish how to develop a course has been a great experience," Askin said.

Wittnich, a professor of surgery, physiology and zoology and Askinís PhD supervisor, has enjoyed working closely with such a dedicated student. "Nesime is very keen, very committed, determined and hardworking: she has the right stuff," she said. "She has matured in a very broad and wide-ranging capacity and sheís developing exactly as I hope all my students do, which is to be a good researcher and scientist yes, but also to be a good teacher, a good administrator and a well-rounded individual."

Askin said belonging to the cardiovascular sciences collaborative program has proved beneficial because it has allowed her to be involved with interdisciplinary research projects where sheís been able to work with students and researchers outside her own area of expertise.

"The graduate experience shouldnít be just about the research experience ó the lab work, analysing your data, completing your thesis and publishing your work ó as important as those things are," Askin said. "Itís also about learning to be a teacher, about being part of the wider academic community, about getting involved in on-campus activities and using your skills to do volunteer work. Itís been my experience that U of T has a lot of other things to offer grad students."



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