Convocation spotlight: MSc in Medical Sciences '22 grad Billy Wang

Billy will receive his MSc in medical sciences in November.

23 November 2022

What achievement, accomplishment, or moment are you most proud of from your time in the program?

I am most proud of my involvement with the COVID-19 biobanking initiative, where we collected biospecimens from over 700 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 to help advance our understanding of SARS-CoV-2. I can still vividly recall my nervousness before stepping on the COVID-19 ward for the first time, as we knew very little about the effects of SARS-CoV-2 infections at the time. Yet, seeing our frontline staff’s display of courage and compassion while shouldering the risk of infections motivated me to persevere so we could learn more about the virus through research. With the incredible dedication of our team led by Bruce Ritchie (director of the Canadian BioSample Repository) and support from our frontline staff, we were able to build this extraordinary biobank from scratch despite having very limited resources. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am proud to have contributed to this remarkable cause!

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

I think the biggest challenge I faced during my master's was managing expectations, including both my personal expectations and those of others. Life can be unpredictable sometimes, and there may be days when you feel distracted or unproductive. Still, it's essential to take a step back and allow yourself to reset instead of feeling frustrated or defeated. Similarly, it's important to have your expectations aligned with others through clear communication when working within a team. For example, if you feel overwhelmed and have difficulties completing a project on time, it's alright to reach out for help and check to see if they can adjust the timeline. Doing so shouldn't be viewed as a sign of failure but rather a sign of growth as we learn more about our limits and capabilities.

What initially drew you to this area of study?

I was fascinated with cardiovascular physiology throughout my undergraduate courses. Having Gavin Oudit, who is a wonderful and inspiring mentor for my undergraduate honours thesis, and knowing that I had the support from fellow lab members, made me feel well positioned to impact heart-disease research in this environment.

What lessons will you take from pursuing a degree during the pandemic?

I’ve always thought to myself, “What are the chances that the SARS coronavirus happened to choose ACE2 as its cellular target?” which has been a focus of our lab’s research over the past two decades. Although my project initially aimed to examine ACE2 and the angiotensin system in the setting of heart failure. When the pandemic began, I could no longer recruit more patients from the clinics. As a result, I had to completely pivot my project to examine the influence of SARS-CoV-2 infection instead, which turned out to be such a rewarding experience. Equipped with our preexisting knowledge and experimental evidence, we were able to disseminate our findings from ACE2 research to inform the global scientific community through attending international conferences and various publications. Therefore, the pandemic has taught me to view each challenge as an opportunity while remaining adaptable and resilient.

What comes next for you in your career/academic journey?

I am currently a medical student at the University of Calgary, with the goal of training to become a clinician scientist. Although there will undoubtedly be many more hurdles ahead, I believe my master's training has provided me with a solid foundation to embark on this exciting journey!

What advice would you give to a student thinking of entering your program of study?

Health sciences research encompasses many domains, from bench-top to clinical research and everything in between. Also, the methodologies are even more diverse, such as using animal models, clinical data and bioinformatics. Therefore, I think it’s important to consider which type of research you’d like to conduct before entering the program and find a supportive mentor with experience in this type of research. You can explore by looking at their prior publications or simply reaching out and asking them about their interests!