Zeenat Ladak, '21 M.Sc.

zeenat-ladak-1920x1080.jpgStudent: Zeenat Ladak
Program: M.Sc. Medical Sciences - Pediatrics
Convocation date: June 25, 2021
Supervisors: Sujata Persad and Jerome Yager

What is your background and what led you to graduate studies in the Department of Pediatrics at the U of A?
I earned my bachelor of science in biochemistry at York University in 2017. During my B.Sc., I completed an honours thesis project, which was my first genuine attempt at research. It was a challenging experience; I realized there was a lot more to learn about research and professionalism, and felt grad school would be a great environment to tackle both.

What is your thesis title and a brief lay summary of your research?
Sulforaphane Protects Brain Cells from Oxygen and Glucose Deprivation
There are many complications that can happen during pregnancy. One potential complication is when a fetus does not get sufficient blood and oxygen from its mother, leading to the death of brain cells. The loss of these brain cells results in developmental disorders such as cerebral palsy, autism or other behavioural disorders. Since there are currently no available therapies that prevent injury to the fetal brain, my research project focused on determining whether a natural health product known as sulforaphane (SFA), can prevent death or damage of brain cells in a low oxygen and low blood supply environment. SFA is naturally derived from broccoli, and is an antioxidant. The ultimate long-term goal of this project is to conduct clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of SFA as a natural health supplement for pregnant women to limit the extent of brain damage if there is not enough blood and oxygen transfers to the fetus. If effective, it would minimize the occurrence of brain development disorders in their children.

How did the Department of Pediatrics prepare you for the next step in your career?
I found my ground in the Department of Pediatrics during the orientation session for new graduate students. That is where I learned about the Pediatric Graduate Students’ Association (PGSA) and immediately got involved with the student group shortly after my degree started. I made new friendships and learned skills, such as leadership and collaboration, that I use in multiple professional settings today.

Mikhaila Skehor, graduate studies coordinator, and Sue Van Nispen, research administrative assistant, supported me during my degree, including sending in scholarship applications, finding professional development opportunities, and thesis requirements.

Were there challenges or things that were harder than you imagined?
Writing was a challenge. I always noticed it was difficult to sit and write; whether it was a scholarship application or a manuscript, I procrastinated. It took me most of my time as a master’s student to determine what worked for me. Instead of trying to ‘fit in’ the writing into my daily schedule, I had to set aside blocks of time dedicated to writing. I still procrastinate, but at least now I schedule and account for it.

Do you have any tips for new graduate students just beginning here or those who are nearly completed?
For those starting out, get involved in the pediatric graduate student community, there are so many people to meet and learn from in our department. It’s always great to have a friend to grab coffee with at the Tim’s when you want a break from the lab or your desk. Also, read! I wish I read more articles and books surrounding my research when I started off, but I waited until the end of my degree when I ‘had’ to, and learned a lot I wish I knew when I started.
For those finishing their degree soon, stick to a schedule that includes breaks. It is incredibly easy to burnout at the end; make sure you set aside some time for yourself.

Has your journey's "destination" changed or morphed from what you thought it would be at the beginning?
Definitely, considering I have always been interested in so many things, I never actually decided on where I would end up after my master’s. My master’s followed a pattern of ‘happenstance’. I would see an opportunity and say yes. That being said, each extracurricular opportunity I took on always aligned with some of my core values, which include advocacy for vulnerable populations, education, and child and youth development. Using my research strengths and skills I gained from my master’s along with the soft skills and professional skills from my extracurriculars, I will create a new destination for myself in the future that will encompass both my academic background and my extracurricular interests.

What types of extracurricular activities were you involved in during your graduate studies and what did you learn from them?
I have almost perfected the art of time management, with mild procrastination. I just wanted to do so many things in addition to research. Within the U of A, I was a career peer educator at the Career Centre and involved with a non-profit board internship program. Outside of university, I was a mentor and program facilitator with the Youth Employment Program (netWORK) at Big Brothers Big Sisters and co-chair of Women in Science, Engineering, and Research (WiSER). Those are some of the activities that I mentioned.

What will you miss about the Department of Pediatrics and your time here?
I really connected with the people I worked with, from my supervisors to the friend that sat next to me at my desk, and will certainly miss the daily interactions and conversations I have had with them over the last three years. That being said, I am determined to keep those connections into the future.

Where are you headed next?
I have moved back home to the Greater Toronto Area, and will start a PhD in developmental psychology and education, with a neuroscience specialization, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto this fall 2021. Besides my academic career path, I have also taken on new roles within the non-profit sector in Toronto; I am the new chief marketing officer of a newly founded non-profit, Brain Changes Initiative, which supports traumatic brain injury survivors. I am also the new secretary of the Canadian Association for Medical Education, which is a charity that supports research and initiatives within medical education. I am incredibly excited to start these new chapters.