Graduate Student Profiles


Amber Harnett

harnettMSc candidate
Supervisor:  Dr Samuel Asfaha

The field of pathology has interested me since I was an undergraduate at the University of Guelph. After engaging in courses and research that spanned nutraceuticals to cellular biology and molecular genetics, I found myself drawn to understanding the biological processes that contribute to disease. Research opportunities at Guelph afforded me the privilege of working in a multitude of labs, exposing me to a variety of research disciplines. These experiences motivated me to pursue graduate research at a renowned research institution that would challenge me, in a topic that I hadn’t explored in my undergraduate degree, in order to continue developing my knowledge and laboratory skills. In this sense, when I was accepted to the Pathology program at Western, in a lab investigating the cellular origins of colorectal cancer, I was elated!

Beginning my graduate studies, I have found the Department’s academic excellence, its opportunities for growth and its extremely knowledgeable professors provide the perfect opportunity to develop as a student. The requirements and workload are manageable, still leaving me time to engage in extracurricular activities such as playing and coaching soccer, as well as acting as the graduate student representative for the Western Pathology Association. Within the Department, individuals exude an aura of knowledge and work hard while still enjoying what they do. Being a part of the Pathology program has quickly turned London into a home for me. 

December 2016

Ranjit Singh Padda

PhD candidate
Supervisor: Dr Hon Leong

I am a PhD student in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. I completed my Masters in Microbiology & Immunology from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) and a B.Sc. in Human Genetics from Guru Nanak Dev University (Amritsar, India). I was attracted to the innovative research undertaken in diverse areas at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Western, which is a direction I wished to pursue with regards to my own research interests.

I am currently working at the Leong Lab, a translational cancer research lab primarily focusing on prostate cancer research.  Our lab is also expanding its research interests to kidney, breast, colorectal, bladder and other aggressive types of cancers. It is a rare opportunity to study several different pathologies under one roof which is an amazing learning experience. We are working in collaboration with surgeons, oncologists and cancer scientists around the world to develop novel diagnostic tests for cancer and strategies for hampering cancer cell metastasis.

There are ample opportunities for trainees to learn by taking part in scientific discussions e.g. sessional journal clubs, Grand Rounds, Research Day, collaborations, etc. The department also offers a unique opportunity for students to build professional skills, engage in social events and community events from time to time. Faculty members are extremely helpful, motivating and willing to share knowledge regardless of their research interests, something which I have rarely seen elsewhere.    

December 2016

Kara Ruicci


MD / PhD program
Supervisor: Dr Anthony Nichols

Throughout my life, I have believed that by pursing what interested me and embracing challenges and diverse experiences, I would find a fulfilling career path. During my undergraduate studies in the Physiology & Pharmacology program here at Western University, I had the unique opportunity to be involved with numerous research endeavours and interact with fantastic and passionate mentors. These experiences provided me insight into the world of academic research, and along with my longstanding interest in clinical medicine, ultimately led me to the MD/PhD program at Western University.

I work with Translational Head & Neck Cancer Research Group at Victoria Hospital, where our research team is focused on genomically-guided targeted therapies for the treatment of head/neck and thyroid cancers. In my project, I am focused on elucidating mechanisms of innate and evolved resistance to targeted agents that compromise the efficacy of these otherwise highly effective drugs. My goal is to then identify and study combination therapy approaches capable of re-sensitizing these refractory systems to achieve lasting responses for head and neck cancer patients.

One of my goals in research is to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge that will enable me to approach novel, clinically-relevant biological questions throughout my career as a clinician-scientist. With so many opportunities to engage in high-impact research and learning in the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at Western University, I am certain that I am in the ideal environment to fulfill this goal. I am so excited to be at the start of such an exciting and challenging journey, and look forward to much personal and intellectual growth along the way. 

September 2015

It is hard to believe how fast time flies as a graduate student! I am now just over 1.5 years into my PhD with the Translational Head & Neck Cancer Research Group and have learned so much in my time here already. Every day is a new challenge, and I begin each week with a new list of goals; things to try, things to re-try, discussions to have, talks to attend and ideas to read up on. I enjoy this ongoing challenge immensely and find, in the field of cancer research, this type of active planning is essential as the field just moves so quickly!

In the past year, I have had the opportunity to attend several research days and conferences, including the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual General Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. What a thrill this experience was! With over 20,000 attendees from around the world, my excitement to be part of the research efforts against cancer was further validated. Attending this conference with my supervisor and lab-mates was a highlight and an inspiration to get right back into the lab.

On the other hand, I spent many hours last Spring studying, reading and writing for my Oral PhD Comprehensive Exam. Even before beginning graduate studies, the notion of completing a ‘qualifying’ exam had been something I was keenly aware of and closely anticipating. Preparing for and completing this exam has definitely been the most challenging aspect of my studies to date. It is a very different experience to orally present your project—and in great detail—and then field questions on it from professors with diverse backgrounds. What an experience! One thing that helped me approach the exam more calmly was the effort I made to try to “get something” out of the experience. Instead of focusing on the exam as a test I must survive, I decided to see if there were even a handful of to-do items that I could put together based on feedback from unique experts. Indeed, I learned many things during the exam! I was made aware what the weaknesses of my project are and how to anticipate them, while at the same time, came to better understand the strengths of my work and how to capitalize on those. Completing the Comprehensive Exam is, foremost, a relief, but I can say I am a better, more inquisitive scientist for it. I am eager to apply my new knowledge moving forward.

Over the next years, I hope to continue growing and learning both about my specific research field, but also about how I would like to build academic research into a future career as a clinician-scientist.

January 2017

Peyton Schroeder

schroederMSc candidate
Supervisor:  Dr Mike Shkrum

I am currently working with the Motor Vehicle Safety Research Team (MOVES), headed by Dr. Michael Shkrum, Division Leader of the Autopsy Service at London Health Sciences Centre and the Director of the Southwestern Ontario Regional Forensic Pathology Unit. My research examines injury patterns of children seated as rear occupants in motor vehicle collisions in Canada. Since motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death in individuals under 17 years of age, the MOVES team and I wanted to determine some of the factors that are contributing to this statistic.

During my first term here at Western, I have had the opportunity to work with MDs, engineers, collision investigators, and a variety of first responders. The Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine has been a very welcoming and enthusiastic team of individuals. The first few months of the program have been filled with getting up to speed on policy, procedures, and current research. Along with all the hard skills, the Department has a very open door policy to allow for questions, concerns, and general conversation. The Western Pathology Association (WPA), our graduate student association, also has had many informative guest speakers as well as fun events to be able to meet people outside of your own laboratory.

When I applied to the research-based graduate program, I was unsure what type of research I would be doing and what others would be doing as well. As the semester went on I learned that there are so many different opportunities to research different things and find out answers to questions I didn’t know I was looking at. Choosing the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine has been an enlightening experience with the opportunity to learn so much more than I originally anticipated. The graduate student community in the department is a group that is diverse, positive, and welcoming to say the very least.

December 2016