Experiential education is a growing trend worldwide and there has been a surge of programs promoting work-integrated and experiential learning in Canadian higher education institutions. A 2018 study on experiential learning and pathways to employment for Canadian youth by Universities Canada, submitted to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, highlights the need for “a sustained national vision and an ambitious experiential learning strategy to support our young people and ensure their future success.” Experiential education is perceived to be the future of learning. Studies have shown that it accelerates learning and acquisition of skills relevant to the changing labor markets; it has the potential to bridge the gap between theory and practice; enables mindset changes and personalized learning; increases collaboration and engagement levels; surpasses traditional learning programs in return on investment; and has potential to provide accurate assessment results.
Our experiential learning program provides unique opportunities for students from the STEM disciplines to receive advanced science communication training. The focus is on building leadership abilities and other employability skills that can make them competitive in the current labor market. In addition, the training aims to spark individual creativity, encourage collaboration and teamwork, and inspire students to become savvy writers, public speakers and social media communicators.
We help the next generation of scientists develop skills that will be instrumental in meeting their future workplaces’ demands for engagement of diverse publics on a variety of communication platforms. With science and technology innovation becoming instrumental to our knowledge-based economies, we are faced with emerging developments in the life science and biomedicine sciences that are highly controversial and have incited intense ethical and policy debates (e.g., vaccines, gene-edited babies, predictive genetic testing, unproven stem cell therapies, heritable genetic modification). In the current environment of “post-truth” politics and growing public distrust in science, scientists are challenged to go beyond conventional public outreach and become dynamic public communicators through online and social media engagement. There is an increased need for science communication training that keeps up with the rapidly changing scientific and technological landscape and engages citizens in a meaningful dialogue on the future of science and technology.
"I would describe my internship at the Canadian Institute of Genomics and Society as a period of immense learning and growth. Through this position, I became a more efficient researcher as I learned how to navigate through relevant science topics, as well as dissecting news pieces. The feedback I was constantly given for every draft I created not only helped me in creating a better draft, but Kalina always made sure to deliver the criticism in a way that I kept it in mind for future pieces. Being able to delve into research, translating it into layman terms, while being informative and accurate, and becoming accustomed to constructive feedback helped me land a new full-time position at a cosmetics company. Highlighting this experience and what I learned contributed to a stellar impression of me as a candidate. My new position’s responsibilities include translating scientific data into simpler terms, finding reputable evidence for the company’s products, and creating informative guides for departments of the company that do not come from a science background. While this may seem like a mouthful, my internship made me feel quite calm and prepared to take on these tasks.”
Barkhaa Talat, 2019
Secured employment as a Technical Communications
“This was a unique learning experience for me as I was able to collaborate with our team to refine my science communication and knowledge translation skills. This experiential placement
offered me the opportunity to coordinate social media communication for the Institute via Twitter and Facebook. The Institute acts as science news dissemination source for the scientific community and the public and most of my contributions were to the Institute’s social media accounts. I am grateful for the collaborative atmosphere that Dr. Kamenova created during this experiential placement as it really helped me tap into my creative potential. I was encouraged to share my ideas with the group, and we were able to make our content more engaging. I really appreciated that this position helped me implement the research and analysis knowledge skills I had gained throughout my undergraduate studies. My work made my prior research skills more useful for as I was able to build on what I already know and make connections between new concepts and existing ones. Training at the Canadian Institute for Genomics and Society has significantly enhanced my understating of STEM education and science literacy while polishing my public engagement skills. My experience has led me to develop skills for lifelong learning and an awareness that I want to pursue a career in healthcare. Having this skill set for communicating health information is essential as it helps me reflect, conceptualize, and plan for my next steps. I really appreciate this opportunity to learn about how scientific information is communicated outside the classroom, as it will be vital in my career as a researcher and healthcare provider.”
Aaron Hayat, 2019
Starting graduate studies in the Medical Sciences Program at
“Having spent a semester at the Canadian Institute for Genomics and Society, I had the pleasure to be exposed to a real-life work environment that allowed me to develop valuable skills. My placement as a science writer provided me with an opportunity to utilize what I had learned within a classroom and apply it to real life problems. I believe this experience also went beyond skill development, as I was also able to discover a passion for research ethics. The most valuable aspect was the rare opportunity to receive real-time coaching from Dr. Kamenova. With her help, I was eventually able to wield my weaknesses into my strengths. Unlike in a lecture, Dr. Kamenova transformed the work environment into a unique setting that facilitated immediate application of what I had learned. This eased the embedding of certain thinking disciplines in my mind that I found myself practicing more readily both within and outside of the work environment. Her active involvement in my writing, as well as her charisma towards my success truly motivated me to produce a better product. In addition, her effort to engage interns with recent scientific research also exemplifies her passion in biomedical technology research and ethics. Dr. Kamenova mediated valuable connections that allowed me to expand my professional network. By creating discussion spaces about recent topics in science and ethics, she provided an opportunity to improve communication and teamwork skills, while gaining insight from peers. More significantly, I was able to self-reflect on my personal stance on complex scientific issues. The freedom to choose topics encouraged me to think more ‘out of the box’ while maintaining my creative integrity. Through this creative freedom I learned what works best for me and to appreciate mistakes, rather than fear them. Reflecting on this experience, I feel grateful, as I was able to produce prideful work and expand my perspective on careers bridging research and law. Dr. Kamenova has truly been an inspiration to work with. Her deep understanding in this field has ignited a passion in ethics in myself and other students she had the pleasure to supervise.”
Hannah Horvath, 2019
Continuing her studies in the Masters of Management and Innovation Program at the
University of Toronto
"When reflecting on my experience with The Canadian Institute for Genomics and Society as a Social Media Coordinator, I was able to learn a lot from this placement. I learned how to run a Facebook page and about social media engagement. Specifically, I learned how to use Facebook tools and insights to evaluate the reach of my posts. Despite this being my first time running a page for the purpose of science communication, it was easy to be successful because of the help provided by Dr. Kamenova. She remained professional in every aspect and was an ideal supervisor to have for my first placement. Moreover, I was interacting with people through Facebook posts, and thus, I gained perspective on the importance of effective science communication. The need for short and concise messages to attract Facebook users’ attention was evident to me, and this opportunity helped me improve my writing skills. Ultimately, this placement was a very enlightening experience, and I am grateful for the skills I learned and improved. I was also able to develop a professional relationship with Dr. Kamenova and am thankful that I was able to work with and learn from her. This experience is one that I will take with me to all my future endeavors."
Oushna Rab, 2019
Starting graduate studies in the Medical Sciences Program at
“Being able to contribute my own articles on current science research made me confident and helped me interpret science in the news on a deeper and even artistic level. Because of the avenue that Kalina provided for myself and our team, it enabled me to be professional on how to cover and produce accurate news articles. The working environment for this experiential experience was perfect since I always felt I could openly communicate with the team. In my opinion, this was likely due to Kalina treating the team as colleagues rather than subordinates, where she encouraged the team to provide feedback on our articles. I developed many skills as a result of this experience. First, it helped me with knowledge communication. Often, being a science student means using complicated terms, however, this was an opportunity to cover news topics to a wider audience, one that my peers and family could understand easily. Moreover, I was able to work independently and find topics that I felt I resonated most with. I believe it was such valuable experience because it provided me with an avenue to professionally showcase my science writing skills. This has been very beneficial to my career. As a researcher on MacSports research team, I recently finished my first systematic review paper, currently awaiting peer review. The writing process for my study coincided with my experience as a science writer for the Canadian Institute for Genomics and society. This was great because I was able to use the newly acquired skills. This opportunity is important for me because being able to efficiently communicate science is something individuals need to work towards and practice. Lastly, this position has enabled me to market myself greatly and I was able to find further research positions with the Population Health Research Institute. I credit this position with the Canadian Institute for Genomics and Society, as well as Kalina, for helping me feel more confident in my graduate studies and beyond.”
Anand Rai, 2019
Currently works as a Researcher at McMaster University
"I have had such an incredible experience working as a Scientific Writing trainee at the Canadian Institute for Genomics and Society this summer. A huge thank you to Dr. Kalina Kamenova for her expertise, guidance, and encouragement. This has been a wonderful opportunity to grow my scientific writing skills and learn more about the current ethical issues being faced in the scientific community."
Justine Bajohr, 2020
Currently pursuing PhD studies in the Department of Surgery at University of Toronto
“As an undergraduate science student there is not always an opportunity for creativity and originality. My education is based primarily on learning content and being tested through tests, exams and assignments. By joining the Canadian Institute for Genomics and Society as a science writer, I was given a platform to write about current science topics that interests me. This helped me stay more up to date on what was going on in the world of science. As well as that, being a science writer allowed me to share my own insights and perspectives on scientific issues. This position has allowed me to really enhance my writing skills beyond just mechanics and grammar. I have learned to convey scientific knowledge in a way that can be understood by the public. This was very difficult at first, but with guidance and coaching from Kalina I was able to really improve. I was able to simplify complex terminology and explain concepts without diminishing its actual meaning. I am more capable of writing in a way that allows more people to understand important scientific issues, so everyone can be a part of the conversation. This skill of knowledge translation is something I want to continue to work on and apply to a career in healthcare. By conveying information in a way that can be easily understood and can really increase transparency, which is crucial in healthcare. This opportunity gave me the chance to create products that I can show future employers, graduate, and professional schools. This is something that is rare in the science field. Writing these blogs has given me a starting point in creating a portfolio which is something that can really allow me to stand out, especially in such a competitive field. Having my name out there has really given me the confidence to move forward and continue to pursue my goals of a career in healthcare.”
Nikkita Mistry, 2019
Pursuing graduate studies in Health Research Methodology program at McMaster University