Student Profile: Chantel Kowalchuk - Stepping out of her comfort zone

Chantel Kowalchuk’s experience as a BMSc student has taken her out of her comfort zone, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. During the past four years, she has experienced life in a city just south of the Arctic Circle, worked with a former race car driver and discovered what she is really passionate about. And it’s the internship and exchange opportunities offered to her through the BMSc program that have helped expand her horizons.

Kowalchuk always had an interest in science, and was searching for a School with a strong science program. After visiting the Western University campus for the first time, she fell in love with the beauty of the School, and she was looking forward to the basic medical science program.

During her second year, Kowalchuk began considering the possibility of going on an exchange, and was was excited to learn about the abundance of exchange partners from which she could choose. She chose to travel to Umeå, Sweden, a university town considered the centre of education, technical and medical research. Located about 400 km south of the Arctic Circle, with a subarctic climate, it wasn’t necessarily a typical destination for an exchange student. The risk, however, paid off.

“I was kind of reserved and codependent on my friends and family. Taking the time to do an exchange helped me develop my personality in the best way possible," said Kowalchuk. "Travelling completely by myself to country where I didn’t speak the language; without friends or family was an amazing experience.”

Caught by the bug of travel and new experiences, Kowalchuk then took an internship in her third year at Horiba Scientific. As a research assistant working with spectroscopy equipment, she analyzed fluorescence from various samples. Her work involved using a beam of light, usually ultraviolet light, that excites the electrons in molecules of certain compounds and causes them to emit light.

While parts of the internship made her slightly nervous about her abilities in a work place, she quickly saw how the experience would be a great confidence builder for future jobs.

“I realized that even though I felt like I didn’t know that much I actually did know more than I thought, and better yet, I had learned the ability to learn new things really quickly. It was really encouraging,” she said.

Kowalchuk recalls having a conversation with a co-worker at Horiba whose career path had taken many different turns. “From talking to these people it made me realize that career paths really aren’t a straight line, even though it seems like a lot of people have it all figured out."

“One of my coworkers went from being a race car driver, to owning a bike shop, and now he’s manufacturing nitrogen die lasers. He found something he really loves even though he went through multiple careers that seem unrelated,” she added.

Kowalchuk’s plans for the future include moving to Sweden more permanently after she finishes her second exchange in Stockholm. She is considering pursuing a master’s in Neuroscience in Germany, and has been doing informational interviews to get a feel for what the possibilities in her future might include.