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Grad Talk

Sailakshmi Rajagopal
MSc'17, Food Science & Agricultural Chemistry (non-thesis)

Originally from southern India, I have been living in Muscat since childhood, where I did my schooling. Muscat is located in Oman (Officially The Sultanate of Oman). To begin with, science has always been my passion. I pursued a bachelor in Biotechnology, where I received a scholarship for an overall outstanding performance in academics.

Later, I studied in a Master’s program in Food Technology - Quality Assurance from University of Reading, UK. The focus of this course was Food Laws and Regulations, legal issues in food and food policy. My thesis was based on Prebiotic and Probiotic chocolates using Lactobacillus plantarum. This added to my interest in the Food Science field and my main aspiration was to make valuable contributions in the Food industries. I find Food Science interesting and challenging and have a great passion to study and learn more about it.

Keeping this objective in mind, I applied to McGill University to cover courses in depth and to gain deeper insights in the field. McGill it was! It was a proud moment. I am happy that I got accepted in such a ranked and reputed university. McGill has helped me to gain my objective. The courses it offers are of variety and extensive and these courses have helped me gain knowledge. I have gained both theoretical and practical exposure. My M.Sc. non-thesis project work is based on Food Authenticity, covering the various recalls and case studies that have occurred due to adulteration and food borne illnesses. I did a study on the various illegal issues related to the Food Science sector. Also, I completed a project on the Separation of Proteins based on Molecular structure. My sincere thanks to all the professors, family and friends who have always supported me.

McGill not only helps students to gain knowledge but it also provides a wide range of extracurricular activities in which students can participate. This helps in further motivation and overall development of students. Being at McGill has made me strong and independent. The campus is known for its serene beauty and has always made me feel positive. The fresh air, the lakeside and the scenes of Macdonald Campus are remarkable, a pure nature’s blessing and has given me only positive energy. Also, I get to meet new people from various countries and various cultures and I have got a chance to learn something new every day. The campus is always lively and there are always so many events happening in the campus.

Each day at McGill has been a new experience. I must say that, I am proud and fortunate to be part of McGill. McGill gives its students recognition and good training to be outstanding in our respective field of study. It is a blessing and a great opportunity for me to study and be a part of McGill and work towards my aspirations.

Reshmi Raman
MSc'17, Food Science & Agricultural Chemistry

In the Southern part of India is the iconic city of Chennai more popularly known by its prior name, Madras. I was born there and spent a major part of my life in this city, where education is given a high priority. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Biotechnology from Anna University, Tamil Nadu, India. My passion for Science was rooted in the early days of my schooling. I always believed that capabilities can be best utilized in research, and hence decided to pursue masters in Food Science. It’s always been my dream to do research in an area that bridges Microbiology and Food Science. Due to the factors like growth in population, advancements in medical science, the demand for food keeps increasing exponentially. As a food scientist, you play a significant role in contributing to the world’s food supply. To meet increasing global demand, you must be up-to-date on scientific and technological advancements. You need to possess knowledge and skills to deliver safe and quality food to consumers as it is one of the basic necessities. Growing up seeing my father contributing immensely to the food industry, I have been inspired in many ways to work towards a meaningful career in food industry.

As my first step in this journey, I consider myself very fortunate to have been admitted to the MSc (thesis) program in the Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry under the supervision of Dr. Lawrence Goodridge (Ian and Jayne Munro Chair in Food Safety and Director, Food Safety and Quality Program) in the midst of tough competition. Wow!! A dream come true, perfect opportunity to pursue my dream research dealing with Microbiology and Food Science. I am going to work on the rapid detection methods of Salmonella species in food, as many cases give a false positive. I will study the different types of cases and experiment with the cultural methods, immunological methods and various PCR methods in rapid detection. I hope that the research we are doing will solve the problem and help society.

I consider myself very proud and fortunate to have received the Claire and Donald Cole Fellowship in Food Safety aid and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Donald and Claire Cole . I am very grateful to them as without their generosity I would not have been able to take the freedom to explore, come up with and develop ideas to do my research. It has also helped me on the personal front by boosting my confidence and motivating me to achieve my goals. Upon graduation, I would like to do research and work in the cross roads of Microbiology and Food Science in the developing countries dealing with global health affairs, neglected food borne diseases and outbreaks due to the various pathogens. I am also looking forward for pursuing a PhD, to aid and serve society better with quality food safety and security.

Macdonald Campus of McGill University, a high tech campus nestled in nature, has given me an ideal environment to pursue my academic goals. This campus is situated in one of Canada’s best cities, with its perfect scenic beauty of warm summers, cool winters, and historical aspects which also makes it one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Although I have spent only a couple of months here, I get inspired every day and the friendly environment makes me feel at home. The Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, which calls this campus home, is unique in its focus on solving real-world problems through rigorous, multidisciplinary research. Studying in McGill helps me connect with people of all kinds, interact with peers from various disciplines, exposes me to the several new cultures and practices and provides me the perfect opportunity to prosper in both academic and non-academic ventures.

Dana Haddad
MSc'14, Food Science & Agricultural Chemistry

Originally from Lebanon, I completed my BSc. in Nutrition and Dietetics at the American University of Beirut, which has greatly guided me to set up my future plans. Prior to completing the requirements for my BSc. and ranked 9th in my class, I was chosen among the top 18 students to apply to a Coordinated Program in Nutrition and Dietetics, a 9 month training program that combines the three years of theoretical learning with an additional year of supervised practice. The program included working 5 days per week in one of the leading hospitals in Lebanon. The program is based on the knowledge, skills and core competencies established by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) which provides practical experience at the level of the community, in the form of nutrition education and awareness for schools and marginalized communities in addition to working with a diverse set of NGOs. This program also provides the required training in the Food Services Sector in quality and safety management.

My training, in correlation with the aforementioned program, served as a primary motivator to pursue a Master’s degree in Food Safety at McGill. I chose McGill as one of the few universities with very high standards that I was certain would amplify my skills and expand my knowledge in this field.

I am proud to be able to work with Dr. Lawrence Goodridge (Ian and Jayne Munro Chair in Food Safety), who continually shares his limitless expertise with his students and encourages them to seek opportunities where they can contribute their skills. My research with Dr. Goodridge is mainly focused on testing restaurant menus, often disregarded in cleaning or sanitizing for living microorganisms, as a possible medium for cross-contamination. In the future, I hope to continue my research as well as work with government agencies to increase awareness about the importance of food safety and its implications.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. and Mrs. Donald & Claire Cole, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and who are influential and knowledgeable alumni of McGill. The Coles, by providing me with the “Claire and Donald Cole Fellowship in Food Safety” have reinforced my enthusiasm to undertake new challenges in the future. This opportunity has also reminded me, that I am well prepared to accomplish the goals and priorities I set for myself.

Rachel Krause
PhD'15, Parasitology/Dietetics and Human Nutrition

Originally from British Columbia, I moved to Montreal to pursue graduate studies in parasitology, environment and global health. My interest in these topics grew out of a love for ecology and an interest in the inter-connectedness between how and where we live, and who we share these places with (human and nonhuman). I have been able to combine these interests in research co-supervised by Prof. Marilyn Scott (Parasitology) and Prof. Kristine Koski (Dietetics and Human Nutrition). Our research group studies the ways in which malnutrition and intestinal parasite infections mutually reinforce each other, through laboratory models and field studies in extremely poor communities in developing countries. In my own work, I am interested in taking this concept a step further, and considering how the environment we live in modifies the relationship between infection and nutrition.

My research is based in rural Panama, where I spent a year and a half studying malnutrition and intestinal infections in preschool-age children. I am interested in how the health of these children is impacted by the participation of their families in subsistence agriculture. I worked closely with a food security program of the Panama Ministry of Health, which is trying to improve the lives of this vulnerable population through providing training and resources to help families increase their agricultural production. By working closely with this program and my own team of field assistants and lab technicians, I was able to follow a group of 250 children and their families over one agricultural cycle. Back in Canada now, the data is telling an interesting and complex story about the ways in which intensifying subsistence agriculture can provide solutions to malnutrition but also pose risks for increased parasite infections. I hope the discoveries we are making will help to inform the work of this government program, and other similar development programs worldwide.

My future goals include continuing to work at the cross-roads of parasitology and environment, whether that be in the area of global health and neglected parasitic diseases in developing countries, or a return to the topic my earlier work, wildlife parasitology and pollution here in Canada.

Macdonald campus has been an ideal place to pursue my academic goals. The Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, which makes its home on the campus, is unique in its focus on solving real-world problems through rigorous, multidisciplinary research. My own academic development has been greatly enriched by initiatives of the faculty such as the annual McGill Conference on Global Food Security.

Studying at Macdonald Campus has also provided many non-academic opportunities.  After returning from my fieldwork in Panama I got involved with the Macdonald Campus Graduate Student Society as the representative for the Institute of Parasitology. This role has been great for getting back in touch with campus life, and has provided lots of opportunities to meet other grad students. As an avid cyclist in the summer and cross-country skier in the winter, I also appreciate the natural setting of the campus and surrounding area.

Vijay Kolinjivadi
PhD'15, Bioresource Engineering/Natural Resource Sciences

Born in the United States with parents emigrated from Tamil Nadu, India, I obtained my degree in Biology with a specialization in conservation and ecological management from the University of Edinburgh. I then went on to develop conservation education problems which focused on the science of ecology within public school curricula in Singapore. While I understood the principles of ecological relationships, I felt that I needed more understanding and training in how such knowledge could be applied to the activities of human society. I pursued a Masters in Environmental Policy and Regulation from the London School of Economics and carried out research which sought to understand how public perceptions on environmental benefits are formulated and expressed.

While pursuing my Master’s degree and during an internship with the United Nations Environment Programme, I became inspired by a particular conservation policy tool known as ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’ (PES). This approach seeks to integrate human development and ecological principles by incentivizing individuals to act as natural resource stewards in order to provide a diverse range of ecological benefits to populations elsewhere while utilizing incentives to improve their own opportunities. I became interested in PES for its conceptually rational yet highly normative approach for managing natural resources for the ecological services they provide to humanity. Governments, funding agencies, NGOs and academics alike have mentioned PES as among the most prominent tools for promoting conservation. However, high information costs, difficulty in ensuring that measureable improvements to valuable ecological services result from payments and the design of appropriate and fair institutions to distribute and implement the payments remain major challenges for PES. My research on PES has taken me to Nepal where I am investigating a proposed payment approach to improve drinking water for the city of Kathmandu. From this case study, I aim to investigate the potential for PES outcomes to tackle more endemic economic drivers of forest degradation and its impacts on water quality for the city as well as the equity ramifications of differential purchasing power for the provision of public services. I hope my research will be able to shed light on the implications of the latest conservation ‘fad’ of neoliberalizing nature in order to save it. This knowledge will be particularly pertinent for developing alternative paradigms regarding relations between society and nature in comparison to the zero-sum game of infinite capital accumulation. 

My PhD research would have been impossible without the generous sponsorship of the Richard Tomlinson Doctoral Fellowship. For this I am extremely fortunate. With the support of the Fellowship, I have had the intellectual freedom to develop my ideas and empirical analysis as well as communicate results and new conceptions to wider audiences. The departments of Bioresource Engineering and Natural Resources Science for my research receives dual supervision are both based at the Macdonald campus of McGill University. The relatively small student population and student to faculty ratio made it easy to meet people and to obtain the appropriate guidance I needed for my research.  I spent the first year of my PhD taking courses and seminars at Macdonald enjoying the facilities and inspiring landscape around the campus while grabbing a bite to eat at ‘Happy Belly’ at the Centennial Centre whenever I had a chance. While at McGill, I was involved in the student-run food collective known as “The Midnight Kitchen” as well as participating in a number of events offered by the Post-Graduate Student Society. In the future, I hope to continue research and perhaps start my own NGO in the field of ecological economics with the aims of promoting new evaluative and demonstration spaces for the exchange and governance of natural resources.

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