Student Profile: Michael Yitayew, PhD Candidate, Biological & Biomedical Engineering

Michael Yitayew is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biological & Biomedical Engineering (BBME) program, under the supervision of Prof. Maryam Tabrizian.

Arriving with a Bachelor of Science in Biology-Chemistry from the University of New Brunswick, Michael joined the McGill BBME program as a Master’s student. After earning his M.Eng., Michael continued in the BBME program as a Ph.D. student. He has also served as Chair of the BBME Student Society (BBMESS) Council for 4 years.

We asked Michael a few questions about his student experience, his hopes for the future, and what makes McGill special:

Q: Why did you choose McGill? Why the BBME program?

I chose McGill because it is a highly reputable, world-class university and I was particularly intrigued with the high-caliber research in Biomedical Engineering (BME), especially in the areas of biomaterials and tissue engineering. Since I am from Atlantic Canada, I had visited Montreal many times before. I have always wanted to study and live here, and I think it is a great city for students.

Q: Why did you choose to study in Prof. Tabrizian’s lab?

During my undergraduate studies, I became more interested in biomaterials research through coursework and through my honours research project. Prof. Tabrizian’s lab was my top choice during my application to the BBME program because of my interest in biomaterials and her impressive research portfolio. After my conversations with her, I was eager to join her lab, and her students were very friendly and welcoming as well.

Q: What is your favorite or most rewarding part of the BBME program?

The interdisciplinary nature of BME is reflected in our program, with the variety of research areas pursued by faculty, and by the collaborations with different institutes and hospitals around Montreal. Being able to partake in numerous learning opportunities as part of this environment, along with having a supervisor and mentor like Prof. Tabrizian, has really enhanced my educational experience here.

Q: What is the most challenging part of the program?

Adapting to such an interdisciplinary field that brings together engineering, natural sciences, and medicine can be tough, especially at the beginning. This, along with formulating your own research idea and writing your Ph.D. proposal, can be very challenging. But it can also be rewarding once you overcome the challenge.

Q: Tell us about your role on the BBMESS and the outcome of the recent BBMESS election?

This will be my 4th year serving as Chair of the BBMESS council. My role as Chair has been centered around student advocacy, and I am the main representative for our society at PGSS council, department meetings, and more. Having strong representation, especially at PGSS council, is crucial for every graduate student as we all pay a substantial fee to PGSS, and they provide many resources as well as advocate on our behalf to the university and local/provincial governments. This year, BBMESS council held its elections virtually (first time ever) and had a record turnout for both voters and candidates. Seeing such levels of engagement from students is an encouraging sign that we are doing our job well.

Q: How does serving on BBMESS enhance your student experience?

Our role as a student society council is to enhance the student experience through hosting academic and social events. Serving on the council has tremendously enhanced my skills in presentation, planning and organizing events, and leadership. In addition, participating in our events has also allowed me to develop my soft skills, partake in networking opportunities, and get to know our students better.

Q: How can we improve the experience for students from diverse backgrounds? How can BME improve representation or better reflect the realities of diversity?

Our department comprises of students and professors from a variety of backgrounds and I think BME has done a good job of maintaining diversity in the department. While equal opportunity in hiring is apparent, representation in top positions can be improved. I think that adding diversity into positions that directly have an impact on high-level decisions will improve the experience for students from diverse backgrounds, as it is a source of inspiration for students to see professors in leadership positions that resemble themselves. In addition, identifying and resolving any implicit biases we may have is imperative to improve representation and it is something that every individual should consider.

Q: What are your career goals?

I hope that after obtaining my Ph.D. degree, I can work in the biotech industry as I am really interested in the translational aspect of our field. However, I am also intrigued by the research and discovery process, so being an academic researcher is something I am very interested in as well. I hope to make a firm decision before the end of my Ph.D.

Q: How have your studies helped you achieve you career goals? (or how will they in the future?)

The courses I took during my Master’s studies in the program helped me gain knowledge about biomedical research and industry. In addition, I am developing my research skills in the lab, and expanding my professional network through workshops, conferences, seminars, and being part of a diverse group of peers. The continued support from my supervisor, my lab mates, and everyone in the program has been impactful towards my growth as a student researcher and will certainly help me to achieve my career goals.

Q: If you could tell the world one thing about McGill and BME, what would it be?

If you are looking for a department with exceptional research, supportive faculty and administrative staff, and a nurturing environment for its students, come join us!

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