For Kyla Trkulja, a member of University College graduating in June, the second year of her undergraduate studies was a pivotal one.
That year, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, making the courses Trkulja was taking resonate with her life outside university.
“My mother’s diagnosis came around the same time we started learning about the mechanisms behind cancer in my immunology, biochemistry and biology courses,” she says. “It made me realize that's what I wanted to study.”
For her third year, Trkulja switched from doing a double major in psychology and human biology to majoring in health and disease and minoring in immunology and psychology.
And now that she is graduating, Trkulja is continuing on that path and will be working toward a master’s degree in cancer research at U of T. It’s the next step toward her goal of a career in cancer research or as an oncologist.
As for her upcoming convocation, Trkulja will be celebrating as best she can with her family, including her mother.
“I’m very excited,” she says. “I’ve grown and learned so much in the last four years and convocation is a time for both celebration and reflection.
“I’m going to rent a cap and gown and we’ll safely visit the campus,” she says. “We’ll take photos in front of the main University College building, Convocation Hall and the Medical Sciences Building. We're going to make the most of it!”
Convocation is the latest step along the scientific path that Trkulja has been following her entire life. She’s been passionate about science for as long as she can remember. Even as a very young child, she would ignore the doll houses and kitchen toy sets and instead, play with the toy doctor’s kit.
“Science was always my favorite subject in school,” she says.
During her undergrad, her passion for science was fed in the lab courses where she got hands-on experience and learned what it was like to do research. It also extended outside school to her involvement with a science literacy campaign called The Science Revolution.
The campaign was founded by U of T neuroscience and psychology student Shreeyaa Ramana, with Trkulja serving as a researcher and content creator. The team uses their website and Instagram account to educate followers about topics like the effects of blue light on sleep and women in science. They also answer questions such as: how do randomized clinical trials work? And is there a genetic basis for race?
An upcoming post will look at the controversial Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy, which questions the sustainability of commercial fishing.
“I did research into Seaspiracy and found it was the definition of ‘cherry-picking’ information to prove a point of view,” says Trkulja. “So, we’re going to post about that and, hopefully, people can learn how to critically analyze the documentary for themselves.”
Of course, many posts address different aspects of COVID-19.
"We saw that people were having a hard time understanding what experts were saying about the pandemic,” Trkulja says. “We saw how that contributes to a lot of misconceptions and fears, so we’re trying to minimize that with reliable scientific information communicated in a way that people can understand.”
Over the past four years, Trkulja wasn’t limited to science-related activities. At University College, she was an orientation leader. (“I was voted most-spirited leader which I was pretty happy about!”) And in her third year, she joined the U of T student group StrengthIN, which turned out to be one of her most rewarding non-academic endeavors.
StrengthIN is a group of undergraduate students who’ve joined together to provide support and resources to GTA youth in need of mental health support. Their workshops include Mental Health 101, Cognitive Distortions and How to Tame Them, and University Stresses Before and During.
“We started off delivering workshops in high schools and then we switched to high schools and universities,” says Trkulja, who is StengthIN’s outgoing co-president.
“Then, when the pandemic hit and everything went online, we took it as an opportunity to expand our reach,” she says. “We started doing free, virtual workshops for elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. We organized drop-in sessions for university students, where they could hang out and just talk about mental health and distress — where they could talk about different coping skills and ways that they're dealing with the craziness going on in the world right now.”
With StrengthIN and other volunteer activities in mind, Trkulja’s advice to incoming students is to get involved in clubs and take part in what the university and colleges have to offer outside of class.
“That’s how I met friends,” she says. “It's how I created a community for myself. Extracurricular activities made my university experience so enjoyable, so my advice to incoming students is to find the time to do at least one activity a year — whether it's sports or a club that you're passionate about, or just anything.
“You’ll meet great people and it’ll bring you a lot of happiness. It'll be amazing!”
Congratulations to U of T's Class of 2021!
Celebrate Convocation 2021 with us and on social media by using the hashtag #UofTGrad21 and tagging @UofTArtSci in your posts.