Student Profile: Nik Kalashnikov, MD-PhD Student, Gr. Cert. '21 (Translational BME)

As a current MD-PhD student at McGill, Nik reflects on his student experience from the Graduate Certificate in Translational BME

After completing the Graduate Certificate in Translational Biomedical Engineering, Nik was accepted into McGill’s MD-PhD program where he aims to pursue translational research in biomaterials and tissue engineering, hoping that – one day – he can use insights gained from his research in his future clinical practice.

We asked Nik a few questions about his student experience in Biomedical Engineering, and how he hopes to translate his skills and knowledge to the clinic:

Q: Why did you choose McGill? Why the Gr. Cert. in Translational BME?

Looking back, I remember walking down one of the corridors in the Duff building during my undergrad and noticing – on a corkboard – an ad for this new biomedical engineering certificate program. At the time, it piqued my interest, but – since I had already decided to pursue a chemical engineering Master’s degree in the CMED lab – I didn’t think of it much more. Who would have ever thought that I would end up completing it?

"I realized how big the gap is between developing engineering solutions in the lab and actually implementing them where they are needed the most"

Well – as it turns out – after finishing my Master’s degree, I decided to stay in the lab to wrap up some of my projects and, amidst the COVID pandemic, I now had some time on my hands. I remember scrolling through social media and seeing – once again – an ad for the certificate program. This time, I decided to apply for it! In the last two years leading up to this moment, while spending half of my time building living tissues in the lab and the other half treating patients on the ambulance, I realized how big the gap is between developing engineering solutions in the lab and actually implementing them where they are needed the most. I applied to the program thinking that it would give me the necessary foundational knowledge and the practical tools to eventually help bridge this gap in my own career.

Q: What was your favorite part of the Certificate program?

I knew coming into the program that, if I was interested in translating lab innovations into useful healthcare products, I would need to understand how patents work, how regulatory approval can be obtained, and how clinical trials are designed. Fortunately, the certificate program addressed exactly these three points with three core courses. Through various projects, I actually learned to draft patent claims, to write a regulatory affairs and quality assurance plan, and to prepare a clinical study protocol! What I really enjoyed, besides getting formal education on these three topics, was that the lecturers – who are experts in their respective fields – shared valuable insights that they gathered after numerous years on the job with the class. I also appreciated the flexibility that the program allows in selecting the two additional complementary courses - I was able to widen my understanding of biomaterials in one, and learn about mechanisms of pain in the other!

Q: What was the most challenging part of the Certificate program?

Although I was keen on learning the fundamentals of patents, regulatory affairs, and clinical trials, I recognized how different these topics are from what I had studied in the past. Instead of crunching numbers to find a solution to a chemical engineering problem or designing a biomaterial to have specific properties, I had to learn how to read legal documents, how to navigate FDA or Health Canada databases, and how to analyze clinical trials for allocation concealment and randomization. I think adapting to these perhaps less-technical topics was the most challenging part for me.

Q: Why did you decide to transition from the Certificate to the MD-PhD program?

With a strong interest in biomedical engineering and clinical medicine cultivated by working in a lab and on an ambulance throughout the last few years, I feel I was naturally drawn to a physician-scientist career and the MD-PhD program felt like the next step for me. Although it might be slightly different from what the Certificate program prepares for, I believe the knowledge and the skills I acquired will prove quite useful to me in the future.

Q: What was the MD-PhD application process like? Did your completion of the Gr. Cert. help improve your odds or help in any way to gain acceptance?

Since the MD-PhD program is a joint program, it shouldn’t be surprising that the application process is essentially a combination of an application to medical school and an application to a PhD program. However, the application has its own particularities. Typically, you are not required to find a supervisor up until the PhD portion of the program starts and most students actually end up refining their research interests during their first year of medical school. This implies that – at the application stage – besides providing the admissions committee with a research CV and letters of reference, you have to write a personal essay demonstrating your interest in a physician-scientist career, as opposed to a letter of intent aimed at a specific lab. It is hard for me to say whether the completion of the certificate program played a significant role in getting me into the MD-PhD program, but what I can say for sure is that it acted as a solid indicator for my interest in translational work.

Q: What are your career goals?

I started the MD-PhD program about a month ago and, at this point in time, I can’t fully picture what my future career will look like. I know for sure that I would like to continue my research in biomaterials and tissue engineering, but intend on focusing it more on translation over basic science research. I am also interested in consulting and entrepreneurship within the medical device industry. At the same time, I enjoy the fast-paced procedural work that characterizes paramedicine as I have come to experience it, but am open to learning more about other types of specialties throughout my medical education. Thankfully, I have several years ahead of me to figure out how to bring these puzzle pieces together!

Q: How will the Gr. Cert. program and/or BME help you achieve you career goals in the future?

The translational biomedical engineering certificate program taught me the necessary steps to bring a medical device to market. Although I currently don’t know exactly which steps of this process I might contribute to in the future, I feel prepared to tackle any of them and am also glad to now have a good understanding of the entire process!

Q: Why would you recommend other students to join BME?

Biomedical engineering is a truly interdisciplinary field with tremendous potential to have a huge impact on the world. If you want to be a part of it, and are interested in health, science, and technology, look up McGill’s biomedical engineering faculty: I am sure you will find a lab whose research will be interesting to you!

Q: Did the Certificate program meet expectations you had going in?

Definitely! I would even say it exceeded them! Besides providing me with a solid foundation in translational biomedical engineering, it landed me a casual clinical research position in Prof. Haidar’s lab!

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

Whether you are interested in academia or industry, McGill’s Department of Biomedical Engineering has a program tailored for you!

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