MatCH program provides opportunity to explore options

Graduate Noureen Ali says program helped define her path

Tamara Vineberg with files from U of A staff - 03 June 2019

Noureen Ali is venturing into a working world of writing provincial policy that she's not familiar with. However, she's confident the research skills she's gained from her master's degree from the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta will form a strong base for her new position as a policy analyst.

Ali, who graduated in June, is beginning a two year, full-time internship in the department of public health and compliance with the Government of Alberta. "It's a very new avenue for me. I feel like I am going ahead from basic science to clinical and then to public health. Public health was something I felt I wanted to end up with because it gives me an opportunity to work on improving people's health while working closely with them. In the long-run, I see myself working in health promotion and in early detection and prevention of cancer," she says.

She had the opportunity to explore her options because of the Maternal and Child Health Scholarship Program (MatCH), funded by a collaboration between the U of A Office of the Provost, Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation, and Women and Children's Health Institute. The program encompasses basic science, clinical, epidemiology and health services research in the departments of medical genetics, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology as part of the Medical Sciences Graduate Program. Learners rotate between three labs in the departments over a three month period before choosing their program.

Ali enjoyed the small and diverse community that MatCH offered. "In grad school, there are not many classes. So you don't get to interact with students from other departments. MatCH gives you that opportunity," she adds.

The 26-year-old hails from Pakistan where she completed her undergraduate degree in biological sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. She was selected for Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States as well as shortlisted for the interview-round of Rhodes Scholarship in Pakistan. Amongst these opportunities, she was lured to the U of A because of the connection she made with Sujata Persad, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics. Ali was interested in Persad's research in osteosarcoma.

Her research project focused on looking at a potential biomarker for osteosarcoma patients. "Biomarkers are any molecules or proteins that are cancer-specific and will help in the proper detection of cancer. Our idea of the project was to look at a specific protein and see if it can be a marker for aggressiveness and metastasis of osteosarcoma. Then we can choose the right kind of treatment based on aggressiveness of the cancer," she says.

She realized while conducting her research as a grad student that her passion for science was leading her more toward clinical research. She began seeking clinical research opportunities and was hired as Michael Hawkes' research assistant. Hawkes, assistant professor in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, works on ways to conserve the oxygen supply for pediatric pneumonia patients in East Africa. Ali will be furthering her research and policy development skills while she works for the province and may consider returning to school to pursue a doctorate in public health.

Ali has words of wisdom for those starting their graduate studies. "You just have to keep working hard. Just take steps day by day. In the end, it will all fall into place," she says.