Fall Convocation 2021: Meet the grads!

Congratulations to all our wonderful graduates from the School of Population and Global Health, many of whom were able to celebrate in person at November 25’s joyful convocation ceremony.

Here, we meet a few of them and hear about what they loved about studying at McGill, what they’ll remember about their time here – and what’s in store for them after graduation.

Edgar Ortiz-Brizuela

Degree: MSc in Epidemiology
Hometown: Mexico City

What I loved most about studying at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences: What I loved most about studying at the School of Population and Global Health was its community. In the MSc of Epidemiology and Public Health courses, students learn the principles underlying actionable research in health sciences immersed in an enriching environment where passionate teachers and brilliant students share experiences and ideas. The way professors teach courses and students commit themselves made me feel all of us shared the belief that a more just and healthier world needs more highly qualified health professionals who may build upon current research efforts and who will perpetuate the teaching-learning cycle.

A proud moment I’ll never forget: An unavoidable question that arises when entering the research world is whether, at some point, our efforts will be reflected in actions. A couple of months ago, my supervisor Dr. Dick Menzies invited me to take part in a research project commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO). We summarized the current evidence about some new tests for tuberculosis infection diagnosis. Our results were used by the WHO as a guide to their new recommendations concerning these tests. Studying at McGill convinced me that building a just and healthier world is not only possible, but at our fingertips, we just need to work hard to do our bit.

What’s next: I am currently a pursuing Ph.D. in Epidemiology at McGill where I aim to get all the tools needed to become an independent researcher. In the long term, I will continue working with tuberculosis and antimicrobial resistance focused on Latin American populations. I would also love to teach epidemiology methods to medical graduate and undergraduate students, and to the general public.

Nehal Islam

Degree: MSc in Epidemiology
Hometown: Ottawa & Dhaka, Bangladesh

What I loved most about studying at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences? I loved the supportive and collegial McGill community. I had the mentors I needed to turn dreams into achievements. My supervisor and research team’s encouragement equipped me with critical quantitative skills to evaluate emerging prescription drug safety questions. Faculty support in the School of Population Health and Global Health helped bring WeCanVax, a community initiative I co-founded to improve vaccine access in Montreal, to fruition. New lifelong friends have supported and motivated me throughout this time.

A proud moment I’ll never forget: My proudest moment was coming to McGill and graduating from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. My father arrived in Montreal as an asylum seeker 30 years ago, working as a dishwasher at a Milton-Parc restaurant. He would wear a McGill patch to pose as a student. Today, I fulfilled our shared goal of attending and earning a degree from McGill. Convocation is a celebration of my family’s achievement as much as it is mine.

What’s next? I have the honour of being in my first year of medical school here at McGill. Epidemiology taught me that I can help improve health, thousands at a time. I want to explore beyond the epidemiologic data to develop individual connections and better understand patient-level medicine. I can think of no other school I would trust more than McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Science to help me develop the skills I need to become an outstanding physician.

Jorge Luis Flores Anato

Degree: MSc Epidemiology
Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela and Montréal

What I loved most about studying at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences: One of the things I loved the most about my master’s was how helpful and supportive the EBOH faculty and administrative staff are. It was very nice to see how everyone in the department really wanted students to succeed and to feel included.

My fave study spot: Pre-pandemic, one of my favourite study spots was CHAI Tea Lounge. They have really good bubble tea and good music to concentrate (I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to their whole playlist a few times!). I haven’t been in a while but I’m happy to see it has opened up again as it was closed through most of the pandemic.

What’s next: I am sticking around at McGill for a bit longer! My thesis supervisor Professor Mathieu Maheu-Giroux hired me as a research assistant and I am very excited to continue working with him and the rest of the team on various projects ranging from COVID-19 to HIV.

Talia Sternbach

Degree: MSc, Epidemiology
Hometown: Albany, NY

What I loved most about studying at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences: The two things that really stood out for me during my degree were the people and the opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. I was lucky to be part of a collaborative and supportive cohort of students and friends that made assignments and thesis writing not only possible, but all the more enjoyable! I also joined a great project team towards my thesis research with ongoing opportunities to learn additional skills and pursue other areas of interest.

Some great memories I’ll never forget: I have great memories debating assignment answers and studying in the basement of Purvis Hall with classmates, and celebrating faculty, staff, and student birthdays with everyone at the Institute for Health and Social Policy. I also loved hiking ‘the Mountain’ (Mont Royal), no matter the weather, and helping our project team with fieldwork (pre-COVID) was also a highlight.

What’s next: I am thrilled to have started in the PhD Epidemiology program this fall in the School of Population and Global Health. It has been great getting to know my new cohort as we return to in-person learning.

Janie Coulombe

Degree: PhD in biostatistics
Hometown: Berthierville in Lanaudière

What I loved most about studying at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences: I really appreciated the motivation and energy of fellow students and professors in the EBOH Department. It made me feel energized throughout my studies at McGill. I also enjoyed all the encounters I had with professors from the Biostatistics program. They are all super nice, respectful, empathetic and genuinely interested in students. Finally, I was grateful to be part of such a strong department in the field. There are so many exciting ideas being generated over there! It is a beautiful experience to be part of it and surrounded by so many great researchers.

Fave everything spot: Our department is moving to Sherbrooke Street, but during my doctoral studies, I have been working at Purvis Hall. Most of the postgraduate students’ offices were in the basement of Purvis Hall, and this is the place where I had the most fun during my studies. That basement saw me through all my moods and PhD experiences. I recall the few hours before my comprehensive theoretical exam when I was singing The Final Countdown in the basement and sweating my fear. I remember numerous philosophical discussions with colleagues and friends about life and studies. I recall dressing for soccer games, going to the Reservoir field to play with fellow biostatisticians and epidemiologists, the fun holiday parties in Purvis Hall, and the weekly Biostatistics seminars, which were also our way of seeing everyone, chatting and getting the latest news. I will miss Purvis Hall and my colleagues very much!

What’s next: My PhD and other professional experiences taught me that I really love teaching and doing research. I am currently doing a postdoctoral research fellowship at McGill and am applying for Assistant Professor positions around Montreal. Wish me luck!

Jonah Gorodensky

Degree: MSc, Epidemiology
Hometown: Toronto

What I loved most about studying at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences: The McGill epidemiology program was a perfect program for me because I got to have full year of coursework followed by a year of thesis research, allowing me to get a well-rounded introduction to epidemiology and delve-deeper into one area of study. I really enjoyed how my peers and professors were all so passionate about what we were learning and the strong quantitative focus of the program.

A eureka moment I’ll never forget: Before the global pandemic, when I told people I studied epidemiology, they usually thought I was studying skin. Now everyone is talking about epidemiology all the time and I have been able to share what I’ve learned with my friends and family whenever they have questions. Even more, I was able to see epidemiologic research changing policy in real time, making my masters degree feel even more worthwhile.

What’s next: I’m working as a Research Professional at Analysis Group, an economics and healthcare consulting firm in Montreal. I have the fantastic opportunity to apply what I learned at McGill every day to a broad range of healthcare questions.

The Medicine & Health Sciences Fall Convocation in-person ceremony took place November 25 at Place des Arts. Check out the program and the recording of the ceremony.

Photos provided by graduates.

Modified from McGill Health e-News

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