Ali Abu Helal, 4th-year Biochemistry, interviews and reports | Joshua Xu
Although some biochemistry
What made you pursue a combined MD/PhD degree?
students choose to
become clinicians or
researchers, Joshua Xu
loved both careers too
much to choose one
over the other; instead,
he chose to enrol in
MD/PhD dual degree
program with the
intention of becoming
a clinician-scientist. An
alumnus of the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Biomedical
Sciences Specialization) program, Joshua is the
inaugural recipient of the Michael G. DeGroote Doctoral
Scholarship of Excellence, an award given to incoming
PhD students with “outstanding academic record and
excellent research promise.” I had the pleasure of
asking Joshua a few questions about his time as an
undergraduate student in our department and his plans
for the future.
I have always had a keen interest in research, even before starting
my undergraduate degree at McMaster. However, throughout my
experiences as an undergrad, I came to realize that translational
research is a field that I would like to pursue. I thought that by
pursuing an MD/PhD, I would be provided with the opportunity
to learn the knowledge and skills of laboratory research while
simultaneously gaining the perspective and context of clinical
What is your fondest memory from your time as an
undergraduate student in our department?
My fondest memory from my time as an undergrad in the
biochemistry department has to be the amount of support and
encouragement I received from the faculty and students when I was
looking for a thesis supervisor; some of them went to tremendous
lengths to ensure that I was paired with a professor that suited my
personality and research interests. I really felt like a member of the
biochemistry department rather than a student passing through.
What is your ultimate career goal and how did McMaster
prepare you for achieving this goal?
Ultimately, my goal is to become a researcher. However, I
understand that it is a very competitive field. The biochemistry
department at Mac provided me with the opportunity and facilities
to take part in high level research that has helped me to develop my
skills as a scientist.
Tell us a little about your research experience as an
undergrad, and your current research in the Hope Lab.
During my undergraduate years, I worked under Dr. Jonathan
Schertzer to investigate the potential effects of commonly
prescribed medication (such as statins and zoledronate) on the
development of insulin resistance. The experience and mentorship
I received during that time had a large influence on my decision
to pursue a career in research. I am very excited to start the
next chapter of my research career at the Hope lab studying
hematopoietic stem cells. I look forward to the challenges and
What is a piece of advice that you would give to current
undergraduate biochemistry students?
Research can be tedious and frustrating at times; finding a topic
that personally interests you is a good way to stay motivated. If you
are facing difficulties, it is important to talk to others, as they may
have the solutions you need.
What are some of your hobbies/extracurricular activities
outside of the lab?
I enjoy learning about the mechanics of cars. To me, it is fascinating
how the different components can be constructed together to
work as a complex system. I enjoy doing the odd maintenance and
repairs on my parents’ car here and there and hope one day to get
my own car to tinker with.
“If you are facing difficulties,
it is important to talk to others,
as they may have the solutions
– Joshua Xu
Ali Abu Helal