Dec 11, 2020

Undergraduates showcasing the scientific solutions to COVID-19

COVID-19, Programs: Undergraduate, Research: Infectious diseases & immunopathology
Amanda Mao and Ziqi Liu

On Saturday January 9th, 2021, the Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology Student Union (LMPSU) in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, will hold its 9th annual research conference: COVID-19: Investigating a viral phenomenon.

The LMPSU organizes initiatives for all undergraduate students on the Specialist Program in Pathobiology, from social events to academic seminars and mentorship program. Their aim is to create a tight-knit LMP community and provide peer-to-peer support to the over 70 students in the program.

Co-presidents Karen Mao and Ziqi Liu are part of the team of 12 elected students in the LMPSU executive organizing the event.

Previous iterations of the conference have ranged from ‘Making the dead talk’ focusing on forensic pathology, to ‘Go with your gut’ featuring research on the gut microbiome.

The free conference has attracted up to 200-300 attendees from the U of T community and general public for a full day of research seminars and poster presentations, and is one of the largest of its kind on campus.

“Our primary goal is to expose undergraduate students to research,” comments Ziqi Liu, a 4th year undergraduate student in LMP. “We want to showcase some of the great research going on in Laboratory Medicine, which is incredibly varied, to not only those in U of T, but high school students and the public too.”

The team picks a theme for the conference which is topical and of interest to a wider audience. This year the obvious choice was COVID-19 research.

“We thought this conference topic would be very timely and what the public wants to hear about,” says Karen Mao, also a 4th undergraduate student in LMP. “COVID-19 is posing so many challenges to our economic stability and individual wellness, and it demands scientific solutions.

“From COVID-19 virus isolation to convalescent therapies and interferon treatment, there is such a diverse approach and huge possibilities in science which is fascinating to us. Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology faculty are at the forefront of these developments, so we wanted to highlight some of the researchers who have led the way in these discoveries, such as Dr Samira Mubareka and Dr Jeannie Callum.”

Organizing such a large conference virtually this year has been a challenge. “Finding the platform was the biggest challenge we had,” comments Liu, “Co-ordinating all the speakers on the day and making sure they join online at the right time is also something we’re having to pay close attention to.”

“We’ve also had to simplify the program,” adds Mao, “Being able to hold a virtual poster session was going to be tricky so we’ve opted to focus on the researchers. We’re hoping the Q&A sessions will prove very useful, particularly for 1st and 2nd year undergraduates so they can interact with these high-profile researchers in a relaxed way.”

A benefit of the online format for them is that there are less logistics to worry about. “I’m personally really looking forward to actually hearing the talks this year,” laughs Liu, “normally we’re all so busy in the background, we miss most of the content.”

Don’t miss the conference: see the full agenda and register

COVID-19: Investigating a viral phenomenon

Saturday January 9, 2021 9:00 am – 5:00 pm