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All courses for every first-year Science student will be delivered online this fall. A limited number of students in their second, third and fourth years will return to campus for part of the semester.

A Special TA Welcome To First-year Kin Students

TaTeaching assistants in the Department of Kinesiology did a star turn in front of the camera to personally welcome the Class of 2024.

"We always say that teaching assistants are the frontline people in a big course," says Instructional Assistant Adrienne Teale. "They are the ones who students interact with regularly in small groups. We wanted students to feel a sense of community and connection with their teaching assistants from day one and get the term off to a good start."

Adrienne talked about the idea of a TikTok-style video with the department's teaching assistants but didn't know how to make it happen. "One of our TAs - Abby Buller (pictured above) - stepped up and offered to create the video from start to finish."

Along with introducing themselves in the four-minute video, the teaching assistants answer the question "if you could be any part of the human body, what would it be?" and offer their best advice to first-year students.

Cooking Up A Biology Lesson With Chef Rosa

Rosa breadmakingAssistant Professor Rosa da Silva with the Department of Biology welcomed more than 300 first-year students into her kitchen to learn the science of breadmaking.

Rosa's "get to know you" lecture was the best attended Welcome Week event organized by the McMaster Science Society. Rosa inspired a student to start a baking group on Instagram with other students who were watching the lecture.

"Teaching during the pandemic is showing us how we need to get creative in engaging students," says Rosa, who perfected her no-knead, artisanal bread recipe during the quarantine. "We have an opportunity at this time to connect with our students in really meaningful and impactful ways. The biology of breadmaking was a chance to get students excited about online learning. It's one small step - or bread loaf - at a time."

Along with earning rave reviews from students, Rosa received a Minister's Award of Excellence from Ontario Colleges and Universities. Nguyen Vo, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology and sessional instructor with the School of Interdisciplinary Studies also received the provincial award which recognizes outstanding work by professors and instructors during COVID-19.

Dr. Nguyen Vo

Researcher's Scientific Contributions Recognized

Frank GrahamDr. Frank Graham has been recognized by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) for the scientific impact of the HEK 293 cell line he created nearly 50 years ago.

Dr. Graham is a recipient of the Robert L. Noble Prize from the Canadian Cancer Society and is Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Biology and Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University. He is also recognized as a Distinguished University Professor by McMaster. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Dr. Graham retired to Italy from McMaster University in 2003.

"As we look ahead to a possible COVID-19 vaccine, it’s important to also take a moment to recognize the invaluable contributions that Dr. Graham has made to such an undertaking with his development of the HEK 293 cell line," says NRC President Iain Stewart. "The NRC is proud to formally recognize and celebrate Dr. Graham’s outstanding contributions to science.”

While working in the Netherlands in the 1970s, Dr. Graham developed the HEK 293 cell line which is now widely used for academic research and in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries around the world. Dr. Graham worked in the lab of Dutch scientist Dr. Alex van der Eb, where he developed a new method called calcium phosphate transfection for introducing DNA into eukaryotic cells. Using this technique, he was able to generate the cell line called HEK 293, which contains and expresses the human Adenovirus 5 (Ad5) transforming genes.

On his return to Canada, Dr. Graham continued to characterize the HEK 293 cell line and, in collaboration with his students and colleagues at McMaster University, he used it in the development of numerous Ad5-based viral vectors for gene transfer and potential recombinant viral vaccines. Both HEK 293 cells and reagents for construction of Ad vectors were widely distributed by Dr. Graham to the scientific community for studies on gene therapy and vaccine development.

The HEK 293 cell line has since undergone significant modifications in laboratories across the globe. For example, the NRC has developed a proprietary version of the HEK 293 cell line, referred to as HEK293-SF-3F6, which has known and specific properties that make it a very strong starting point for the subsequent development of vaccines and therapeutics for human health. It is used for the production of a variety of COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

“I take great satisfaction from the fact that the HEK 293 cell line that I created in 1973 has contributed significantly to advances in the fields of gene therapy and development of vaccines," says Dr. Graham. "HEK 293 cells have become one of the most commonly used mammalian cell lines both in academic research and in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.”

McMaster Science Graduate Students Association President Rhea Desai

Rhea DesaiRhea Desai is a first-year Ph.D student in the Department of Biology.  Her research is in the field of radiation biology and focuses specifically on low-dose radiation effects on humans and animals.  She first started at Mac as and undergrad in 2014 where she completed her Bachelor of Science in Biology.  At McMaster, she grew to love scientific research and so after her undergrad she stayed at Mac for graduate school. The McMaster Science Graduate Students Association (SciGSA) connects Science graduate students with other graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni and potential employers. The association hosts events throughout the year to help graduate students develop academically, professionally and socially.

Why you got involved with the McMaster Science Graduate Student Association?
I got involved in 2019 as the Communications Officer because  I always love being a part of a team.  Specifically, by joining the SciGSA I hoped to work towards creating an increasingly diverse and equitable environment for students to enjoy. Graduate school can be a bit lonelier compared to undergrad so I felt joining the SciGSA was a great way to connect with other grad students while also working together to create meaningful and enjoyable events.  So far it has been a great experience alongside a wonderful team!

What's your role involve as President of SciGSA?
My role predominantly consists of overseeing many of our day-to-day operations as well as the event programming we offer. Additionally, the SciGSA has a lot of links with other groups and offices on campus so regularly meeting with these groups ensures our programming is reflective of what the student body wants and needs.

How has the pandemic impacted your plans?
In terms of academic life, being in a research based program is not ideal when it comes to a “work from home” lifestyle.  Luckily, I was able to spend this time away from the lab to delve deeper into reading and writing.  It’s nice to be back in the lab in some capacity but  I’ll miss regularly chatting with lab mates!
The SciGSA had many plans for the school year which have had to be shifted online due to the pandemic.  Much of our programming is very social in order to give students a place to relax and have fun after a long day’s work. For this reason we are currently trying to develop events which maintain the social aspect safely online.  The SciGSA team has done an awesome job so far in moving our “Exploring Hamilton Scavenger Hunt” online for students to try out at home!  Check us out on social media @McMasterSciGSA !

What challenges are grad students facing because of the pandemic?
Grad students are now having to work totally different schedules in order to maintain social distancing and safe working conditions.  This is definitely a challenge in scheduling lab work so not to bump into other lab mates.  In the time away from lab, working from home isn’t always a suitable option for students therefore making productivity difficult.  Additionally, with many grad students holding teaching assistant positions, navigating the online classroom environment can be a challenge.  From organizing courses into a suitable online format to receiving student questions more often than normal, being a TA during the pandemic is just one of the challenges grad students are facing right now!
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