UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 6 |
Jun. 2, 2005
Pay it Forward: Pharmacy Prof Honours Own Mentor
By Hilary Thomson
Driven to discover? Inspired to investigate? For many undergrads,
the leap from lecture hall to laboratory can be daunting.
In UBC’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Assoc.
Prof. Kishor Wasan is there to help students make the transition.
A faculty member since 1995 and a Distinguished University
Scholar, Wasan’s perspective on turning students on
to science was greatly influenced by his own mentor, the late
Alan C. Hayman, a professor at Wasan’s alma mater, the
University of Texas.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t
for him,” says Wasan, who chairs the faculty’s
division of pharmaceutics and biopharmaceutics. “He
had a personal passion and took the time to encourage young
When Wasan asked himself how he could repay Hayman’s
gift of mentorship, the answer was clear: do it for someone
else. Thus was born the Alan C. Hayman Memorial Award for
Summer Student Research, established by Wasan and his wife,
Dr. Ellen Wasan, a research scientist at the BC Cancer Agency.
A recipient of a 2001/02 Killam Teaching Prize, Wasan has
his own passion when it comes to teaching and mentoring undergrad
research. He expanded the faculty’s fledgling summer
student research program (SSRP) to about 30 participants annually.
Almost 15 per cent of SSRP students go on to graduate studies.
In addition, Wasan founded and since 2001 has served as national
director of the Canadian Summer Research Program for Undergraduate
“I learn as much or more than I give,” he says.
“Being a mentor is different than being a boss. I want
the student to become empowered -- to be creative and find
their own path.”
With undergraduates who are exploring many choices, he concentrates
on convincing them that science is “cool” and
worth pursuing. Grad students and post-docs don’t need
convincing but do require guidance and support.
Factors that distinguish mentoring in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical
Sciences include a culture and history of undergrads working
in research labs. In addition, the relatively small size of
the faculty -- 550 students -- means “everybody knows
everybody” making it easier to form relationships. Even
so, Wasan says one of the hardest aspects of mentoring is
getting students comfortable discussing their feelings about
their research, especially if it’s not going well.
“Students don’t want to displease a mentor,”
he says. “I really try to break down those barriers
so I can know when my students need support.”
Although Wasan acknowledges that mentoring is a great tool
to recruit students to a future in pharmacy research, he is
happy to watch students become investigators in other areas
of science or move on to other professions.
“Sometimes they come by years later and still remember
their experience as an undergrad researcher -- that’s
A student who recently benefited from Wasan’s mentorship
is second-year student Ross Taylor.
During his first year in pharmacy, he approached Wasan because
of his reputation as an enthusiastic teacher and mentor.
“He lets you discover on your own,” says the
21-year-old. “He helped me see all the options but also
let me make my own decisions - he gives you the freedom to
But mentoring is a two-way street, and Carlos Leon, a post-doc
in Wasan’s lab, says Taylor stood out because of his
receptiveness to learn and his sincerity.
Leon helped him investigate effects of heat on drugs used
to treat a common fungus. They showed that heat made the drug
less toxic and the investigation earned Taylor the faculty’s
2004 A. C. Hayman SSRP Poster Competition.
Taylor also won the People’s Choice award and was one
of five poster winners at UBC’s Multidisciplinary Undergraduate
Research Conference 2005. Taylor travels to Saskatoon this
month to present his findings to the Association of Faculties
of Pharmacy annual conference. In addition, the work will
be published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.
Taylor describes his mentoring experience as “genuinely
“I got to work with people who love their jobs and
who were welcoming and patient -- I highly recommend it.”
Taylor will complete a clerkship this summer in the small
town of Brooks, Alberta, and plans to continue research work