Dr. Korosh Kianizad finished his PhD in 2014, under the supervision of Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker, determining the molecular requirements for the expression of Delta-like 4, a Notch ligand necessary for T cell development. Shortly after, Korosh chose to continue his career in the Department of Immunology at UofT as the Research Program Officer where he has been an integral force in pioneering and developing the MSc in Applied Immunology program. In this issue of IMMpress, I sat down with Korosh to discuss the purposeful steps (and the accidental ones) that he took to place himself onto a career in the educational stream of sciences.
Although many consider academia or industry to be the bifurcation in the career road following a PhD, Korosh was more open to other ideas. “The paradigm of getting a PhD in sciences was that you stay in it,” Korosh says. “I wanted to apply the skills acquired during my PhD, such as critical thinking and data analysis, towards other ventures because I had many interests outside of science research.” After exploring opportunities in other sectors, Korosh decided to go back to what he knows best. As he looked back to all of his jobs, dating back from his time as an undergraduate student at McMaster University to the end of his PhD, they have always been in the education sector: “I have been designing courses and teaching classes for a long time, and it was enjoyable. So why fight against what I’ve done, when I can continue to do what I enjoy?” Serendipitously, as Korosh graduated with his PhD, the Department of Immunology was looking for someone to manage the new Applied Immunology program. With his set of skills, experience, and familiarity working with the department, Korosh was fit like a glove for the position.
Korosh was interested in directing the Applied Immunology program due to the unique flexibility offered to its students. He explains that the program is a great fit for individuals who want to be trained in both academic and industry settings, with the bonus of a set completion time. An internship component during the latter phase of the program allows for a transition to working for biotech companies. On the other hand, the research project component and wide variety of courses offered allows the program to be perfectly suitable as a stepping stone towards full-on PhD research. Korosh’s day-to-day duties for managing the program always vary. Mostly, they include answering student questions regarding university policies, course selection, as well as informing them of upcoming deadlines and program requirements. He also organizes research presentations and helps provide a third opinion on their projects. Reflecting on his time as a PhD student, Korosh says: “Planning and conceptualizing experiments were always my forte.” A large component of his job is to apply those strengths when working with students, if needed, to help plan a path towards finishing their research projects within the strict timeframe of the Applied Immunology program. When students complete their Applied MSc in immunology, he hopes the program assisted them in becoming better critical thinkers, communicators, and data analyzers. Even though those skills are bestowed under the umbrella of immunology, they will translate to virtually every situation they (the students) encounter for the rest of their lives.
When asked if there was any learning curve in transitioning to this new role behind the scenes of a graduate program from being a benefactor of one during his PhD, he was quick to point out how wonderful the department’s administration staff was to make him believe, back when he was a student, that “stuff” simply happened when we (students) wanted it to. The reality is that a lot more work must be done behind the scenes to ensure that our requests are fulfilled. For example, he spoke about the difficulties learning the student information infrastructure in order to connect the Applied Immunology program to the School of Graduate Studies and the University. “Since there was no manual on how to run the program and what works or doesn’t, I was required to write the book based on my own experiences,” Korosh recalls. “The program was initially like a house that wasn’t yet furnished, but three years later, I am finally at the refinement phase where I am fine-tuning the decorations and adjusting the colours of the drapes.”
However, Korosh is not most proud of what he has accomplished in the development of the program, but rather with what the students he has mentored have accomplished. He confesses that the biggest rewards during this role have been the times he is co-signing off on their degrees or when he receives the simple “I got the job!” e-mails from recent graduates. As ambitious as ever, he states that his current goal for the program is to cultivate a reputation so that when companies have position openings, they will want Applied Immunology graduates to fill them first.
To end our interview, I asked him if he had any advice for graduate students reading this interview. Of course, Korosh wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t leaving some words of wisdom: “Try to get your face and abilities in front of as many people so that they know what you are capable of. Down the years, it might assist you when they are looking for someone for a job and they remember you. There is luck in reaching your aspirations, but you are also capable of creating your own luck by getting others to know what skills you have..” And for the students still not yet seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, he reminds: “Understand that in the grand scheme of life, certain events, such as an experiment not working or being unable to land the interview you were hoping for, aren’t the end of the world… so try not to dwell on it.”