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Interview with Sohnia Sansanwal

Journalist: Anam Biabani

Anam Biabani: Hello and welcome back to another episode of Sci-Section with your journalist, Anam Biabani, broadcasted on CFMU 93.3 FM radio station.

Anam Biabani: Today we're going to take a little turn and interview someone who is outside of the general zone we tend to have guests on here from. This is someone who is here for you guys to both: relate to and learn from.

Anam Biabani: Today, I would like to introduce to you, Sohnia.

Sohnia Sansanwal: Thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be here.

Anam Biabani: So Sohnia, to get us started, give us a little introduction of who you are and what exactly you like to do, both professionally and outside of work.

Sohnia Sansanwal: I'm currently in my first year of the Health Research Methodology program at McMaster University, doing my master's here, and a lot of my work surrounds health equity, learning about risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, community health, global health, child health, just that sort of realm. So that's pretty much what my interests are and what I'm pursuing in my master's. And then outside of school, I consider myself to be a pretty avid runner and hiker.

Anam Biabani: That's amazing. I know that you're doing a lot of research that's touching on a lot of different fields. So, what exactly is your favorite part about the research that you're doing and just the general field of research?

Sohnia Sansanwal: Sure, I can go off on this question. So I think my favorite part of research, I'll tell a little bit of an anecdote here. So when I first started doing research, this was back in my third year of my undergrad, which I did at McMaster in Life Sciences. And before then, the idea of pursuing science and research professionally sort of seems something that was very isolating. But it wasn't until I started getting involved with research that I learned how engaging and collaborative and community based it can be. So as I've, I guess, progressed in my research, it's starting to become very apparent that science and the pursuit of science is something that can't be done in isolation. So I think that aspect of collaboration, specifically with the work I do, it's very community involved. You're out in the community, you're learning about health equity barriers that affect health care access. So all of that combined just really made me realize, I guess, my love for research, but also, yeah, sort of the fact that it's not something that's done in isolation. It's a very collaborative, engaging process.

Anam Biabani: But I'm guessing there are still going to be fields of science that are the other way around.

Sohnia Sansanwal: I can speak from my experience, so I've done both lab or wet lab stuff, dry lab and just directly involved with community (with co-design work and whatnot), I can confidently say that pretty much all aspects of research are collaborative. The pursuit of knowledge is something you constantly build on top of people, right? So if you're trying to do that in isolation, you're going to be met with a lot of hardship. But for the most part, if you're someone that likes working with people, research is a good way to go.

Anam Biabani: Do you think you've had a turning point or any defining moment in your work as a researcher?

Sohnia Sansanwal: Yeah, it sort of ties into that story I gave about thinking how isolated research could be or how my, I guess, false preconceived notions of it was. But when I started to realize that, I think that really changed my idea of what it meant to pursue research. Like, obviously there's like I was saying before, there are certain areas where like if you're someone that can keep to yourself and you prefer to be like that, that's all the power to you. And there's definitely a place for you in an academic setting. But if you're also someone that likes getting to know people, networking, meeting clinical populations, working directly with the community, this is definitely also a place for you. So when I started to realize that, that's when I realized, okay, this could be something that I could pursue, not just as like a side thing, but as a career and a passion.

Anam Biabani: That's nice to know! I have another question. What advice would you give to students who are interested in research? Do you have any suggestions on how they could pursue research opportunities so they can actually experience the field and learn what it's all about?

Sohnia Sansanwal: Yeah. So my my suggestion is this. So I was definitely someone that struggled to find a research position in my undergrad. I remember sending like probably collectively 200 emails to different profs, whoever, just like trying to get someone to like, give me a position. But what I will say was a very. The route that I went through was reaching out to grad students, in particular with the lab that I worked with in my undergrad. And going through that route and reaching out to PhD students in particular, I find that students are often a lot more receptive to emails just because, like any time you give a student an opportunity to talk about their research, they will go on forever. But yeah, I feel like that was a very effective route for me.

And if you're someone that is interested in research, I would recommend reaching out to PhD students as well, not just for research opportunities, but really just learning about what grad school is. Because odds are if you're interested in research, you may have had some sort of inkling of pursuing grad school or post undergrad opportunities.

So definitely going that route for some insight is very valuable.

Anam Biabani: That's really valuable advice. But how do you suggest people even find these PhD students in the first place?

Sohnia Sansanwal: So I did a lot of Googling. Oftentimes if a lab has a website set up, which a lot of labs do, especially at McMaster University, they typically have pages set up where it highlights student stories. So for example, the lab that I worked with in my undergrad, they had a page dedicated to the students that were on their team. I ended up scrolling through that page and found research and individuals that were exciting and aligned with what I wanted to do. So that's an effective route to take. And also with social media and everything. A lot of labs are starting to have Instagram pages, Tik Tok pages as well. So that could be another route to reach out to.

Anam Biabani: Thank you for all of that. So just to end off today, I have one last question. If your life were turned into a movie, what would you name it and why?

Sohnia Sansanwal:

I think from an academic perspective, specifically, I like to consider my journey, trial and error. That's probably what I would call it.

I'm someone that switched programs five times in my undergrad. It was definitely not a linear path at all. So my pursuit to research and education in general has been a lot of ups and downs. But we're getting through it. We're finding our way.

Anam Biabani: How do you think you've dealt with the trial and error throughout this time? Because failing is hard. Like just the fear of failing is something that is difficult to deal with.

Sohnia Sansanwal: Yeah, so I will say failure humbled me, especially in my first year of university. It like it was a slap in the face. I there were many F's, many D's, many C's. But I think once you face failure, oftentimes it's not something that you wish upon yourself. It just happens. So when it does happen, it's important to reflect on why that happened and then how you could bounce back from it. So in my first year, when I was faced with a lot of those F's and D's and C's, I used that as a sort of learning opportunity to realize, okay, what am I doing wrong? How can I move from here? But yeah, having that sort of mindset took me from a very, very low GPA, borderline like probably going to get kicked out if I kept up with that to getting into grad school and being where I am right now.

Anam Biabani: That's inspiring. Thank you for sharing that.

Sohnia Sansanwal: No worries. I feel like a lot of people don't really talk about grades and the bad things.

Anam Biabani: They don't at all. So I'm really glad that you touched on that.

Sohnia Sansanwal: No, I was humbled real bad. But we're getting through it.

Anam Biabani: Thank you. So, ladies and gentlemen, that right there with Sohnia. Sohnia, it was such a pleasure meeting with you today. Thank you so much for coming on here.

Sohnia Sansanwal: It was a great time. Thank you for having me.

Anam Biabani: So, guys, that's it for this episode of Sci-section. I'm your journalist, Anam Biabani. Make sure to check out our podcast available on global platforms for our latest interviews.


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