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Experiential learning at the cellular level

Co-op student Zhifen Zhang at the MaRS Centre, where worked on test expression, protein purification and cloning for the Structural Genomics Consortium.

Biotechnology – the use of biological information in technology applications – has significant potential to contribute to Canada’s innovation economy. Our country ranks second after the U.S. in terms of the number of firms headquartered here, of which 80 percent are in the Greater Toronto Area. And the demand for qualified scientists has exploded, whereas supply has not kept pace. 

Biological Sciences Professor Clare Hasenkampf recognized the opportunity that this presented for her students and, in 2003, helped launch a co-op program in Cell and Molecular Biology to give talented students a head start on their careers. 

UTSC designed the program to develop a high standard of professionalism in our students, as well as meet industry needs. Statistics and computer courses, for example, were added to the academic program in response to requests from employers. So that students are qualified for the best work opportunities, our program requires two years of classroom education before job placements begin. 

Students have [received job placements] worked at Health Canada, pharmaceutical firms and, more recently, the University of Toronto’s Structural Genomics Consortium at the MaRS Centre, where students help produce vaccines and participate in investigations of the role of proteins in diseases. 

Attracting some of the university’s best incoming students, the Cell and Molecular Biology program typically provides two four-month work placements or, occasionally, an eight-month placement, which offers more continuity on the job. 

“Co-op helps enrich the experience for students,” says Hasenkampf. “They go out and find out why those skills and subjects they are learning are important and they come back highly motivated. The biotechnology industry benefits from having good employees and, ultimately, the people who will make a difference in [its] future.” 

Find out more on the Arts & Science co-op website

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