Kate Friesen says she barely knew what immunology was when she registered for an introductory immunology course during her first year at the University of Toronto.
The new grad and St. Michael’s College member had been planning to study neuroscience when a few upper year friends on the U of T Dance Team convinced her to take the immunology class with them as an elective.
“It ended up being my favourite course that I took that year and I knew I wanted to pursue an immunology major,” says Friesen. “Immunology is one of the most important areas of biological science as our immune system plays a crucial role in health and disease — as is evident with the ongoing pandemic.”
Now Friesen is UK-bound where she’ll begin her PhD studies in oncology at the University of Oxford this fall.
A&S News spoke with Friesen about her memorable experiences at U of T, her time on the U of T Dance Team and what she’s looking forward to most at Oxford. Hint: there might be a Harry Potter connection.
You were a member of the U of T Dance Team. What was that experience like?
I’ve been involved in competitive dance for years. I began my training in a variety of styles when I was five years old and knew that when I moved away for university, I wanted to continue to pursue dance. I auditioned for the University of Toronto Dance Team during my first year and was a member of the team for the past four years.
In a stressful university environment and being away from home, I am extremely grateful that I was able to be a member of the dance team which allowed non-academic pursuits and interactions and, of course, physical activity. Dance has provided me with physical stamina, strength and flexibility. Mentally, it has taught me to be disciplined, focused, results oriented, adaptable and a team player.
I am very fortunate to have been a member of the dance team and for all of the incredibly supportive people I have met. There is also a very valuable mentorship component as the team is composed of a variety of people from different backgrounds in a range of programs.
What have been some of your other memorable experiences at U of T?
Each year at U of T has been memorable for different reasons. In first year, some of the most memorable experiences happened in residence at St. Michael’s College. One of my favourites was spending way too much time eating and talking with friends in the Canada Room.
In second year, I applied for the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship to pursue research abroad for a summer. I had no laboratory experience at the time and didn’t think I had a chance of receiving the scholarship. I ended up receiving an interview and later on found out that I had received the scholarship to travel to Melbourne, Australia to pursue research at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research. The entire experience was memorable and an extremely positive learning opportunity and I was fortunate enough to receive funding to return to Melbourne and continue the project in my third year.
In third and fourth year, I spent a number of all-nighters in Robarts Library with friends and lots of coffee. Although these were difficult, they were beneficial in the end and I have many humorous memories from these nights.
What advice would you give your first-year self?
Work and study as hard as you possibly can while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. During my first year I struggled with time management and balancing school with extracurricular activities and a job. I was highly involved in the U of T and St. Michael’s College community and found that by speaking with upper year students I was able to develop better time management and study skills.
What would you say to someone considering attending U of T and St. Michael’s College?
They should absolutely do it! Sometimes things will be difficult and everyone struggles at times. What’s important is being tenacious and trying to find a strategy that works for you. There are many resources available through your college and U of T including various mentorship programs which are a great way to meet upper year students and gain valuable advice.
Talking to classmates and getting involved in the U of T community is extremely important and provides a sense of community in a large school. I would also tell incoming students to introduce themselves to their professors and be engaged in lectures.
What are you looking forward to most during your time at Oxford?
I will be pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in oncology, working on oncolytic virotherapy — an emerging cancer treatment that uses viruses to destroy cancer cells.
I’m looking forward to the academically rigorous program and interacting with the diverse group of students and world-class faculty at the University of Oxford. I’m also looking forward to dining in the Christ Church dining hall — the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies!