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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 scientists.”

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 Pharmacy Students.

“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 really satisfying.”

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 try things.”

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 positive.”

“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 in September.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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