From machine learning to mentorship, graduate Irene Fang showed leadership during her time at U of T

Even while undertaking complex research, the human biology and immunology student took the time to help her peers

Irene Fang graduated with an honours bachelor of science degree, working on research that could lead to new treatments and therapies for immunocompromised patients (supplied photo)

While studying for her honours bachelor of science degree, new University of Toronto graduate Irene Fang capitalized on opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.

Majoring in human biology and immunology in the Faculty of Arts & Science, Fang researched innovative methods in ultrasound detection driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. She’s also working on research into cells and proteins in humans that could lead to new treatments and therapies for immunocompromised patients.

Even amid that busy schedule, Fang was determined to help others succeed. As a senior academic peer advisor with Trinity College, she was admired for her dedication to learning and the U of T community.

“I want to keep giving back because I am so appreciative of the upper-year mentors I connected with, starting in first year,” Fang says. “They continue to serve as an inspiration, motivating me to further develop personal and professional skills.”

Fang spoke with Faculty of Arts & Science writer David Goldberg about what she learned during her undergraduate studies, the importance of peer support and her post-graduation plans.

Why was U of T the right place for you to earn your undergraduate degree?

U of T provided a plethora of academic, research and experiential learning opportunities alongside a world-class faculty to help cultivate my curiosity and consolidate my knowledge. In conjunction with an unparalleled classroom experience, I gained a real-world perspective with international considerations through the Research Opportunities Program.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention how extracurricular activities enhanced and enriched my university experience. The many clubs at U of T helped me focus on my passions and make meaningful connections with like-minded peers who became my support network, enabling me to reach my full potential.

How is your area of study going to improve the life of the average person?

It is absolutely fascinating that AI has already revolutionized the medical field. Specifically, AI possesses the potential to aid in the classification of ultrasound images, enhancing early detection and diagnosis of internal bleeding because of injuries or hemophilia. Overall, AI may lead to more efficient care for patients, thereby improving health outcomes.

In terms of my immunology research, since the memory B cells expressing the specific receptor are dysregulated in people suffering from some autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases, a better understanding of how memory B cells are regulated could provide valuable insight into the underlying mechanisms of such diseases so we can enable scientists to develop new therapies that alleviate patients’ symptoms.

What are you hoping to do after graduation?

I aspire to pursue a career in the medical field, conduct more research and nurture my profound enthusiasm for science while interacting with a diverse group of people. I hope to devote my career to improving human health outcomes while engaging in knowledge translation to make science more accessible to everyone.

Why was working as a peer advisor at U of T important to you?

I remember feeling overwhelmed as a first-year student until I reached out to my academic peer advisors. Had I not chatted with them, I would not have known about – let alone applied for – my first research program. Looking back, it opened the door to many more new, incredible possibilities and opportunities.

This experience made me realize the significance and power of mentorship, inspiring me to become an academic peer advisor. Seeing my mentees thrive and achieve their goals has made this role so rewarding – so much so that I am determined to engage in mentorship throughout my career after graduation.

What advice do you have for current and incoming students to get the most out of their U of T experience?

Ask all questions – because there are no silly questions. Get involved, whether it be volunteering, partaking in work-study programs, sports or joining a club. Meeting new people and talking to strangers can be daunting, but the undergraduate career is a journey of exploration, learning and growth.

Be open-minded and don’t be afraid to try something new. Immersing yourself in distinct fields enables you to discover your interests and passions, which can lead you to an unexpected but meaningful path.

Also, be kind to yourself because failures are a normal part of the learning process – what’s important is that you take it as an opportunity to learn, grow and bolster your resilience.

And finally, although academia and work can keep you busy, remember to allocate time for self-care. Exercise, sleep and pursue hobbies because mental health is integral for success in life.

Arts & Science