Grad Student Profiles - 2023-2024

February 27, 2024 by Alyx Dellamonica

This fall, the department of chemistry welcomed 65 incoming graduate students who will be pursuing their research interests at our UTM (Mississauga), UTSc (Scarborough) and St. George (downtown) campuses. Now that they have had a semester or more to get settled, we asked a few of them about their research goals and why they chose U of T.


A young man with red hair in a blue shirt smiles at the camera. A blue and green mountain landscape is behind him.

Mark Atwood

Mark Atwood completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry at Dalhousie University in his home province of Nova Scotia. Now he works in the lab of Dr. Sarah Rauscher at UTM where he uses molecular dynamics simulations to study proteins that can lead to cell death.

Where did your interest in chemistry come from?

I’d say my interest in chemistry came from my grade 12 chemistry teacher. It’s one thing to learn about science in the classroom, but it’s something else entirely to see it happen first-hand. It was in his class that I first performed any chemistry experiments and that’s what pulled me in.

What did you look forward to most as you began your graduate studies here at U of T?

I was most looking forward to learning about a new area of science that I hadn’t explored before. In my undergrad, I had worked on several research projects, all of them different from each other, and I knew whatever I was going to be doing here was going to be different too. It can be a little intimidating to think about starting something new that you don’t know a lot about, but the learning is the fun part!

Were there any surprises when you began?

I think it was a little surprising how long it took to pick up the new skills required to do my research, but that’s okay; progress takes time. There are also lots of resources that helped me along the way, and I’m still learning lots! 


A South Asian woman with short hair sits at the fore of a multi-coloured corridor.


Isabelle Lao

Isabelle is from Manila, Philippines but grew up in Shanghai, China. She completed her BSc in Chemistry and Oceanography at the University of British Columbia. During her undergraduate degree, she worked in the Borduas-Dedekind group investigating the seasonality of atmospheric particulate selenium in the United States. Now at the St. George campus, she works with long-term greenhouse gas data to better understand air quality in the Greater Toronto Area. 

After doing your undergraduate studies at U of T, what was it that made you decide to continue your graduate studies here in the Department of Chemistry?

My interest in chemistry began in high school. It was intriguing to me how there were so many rules but also so many exceptions to the rules.

What were you looking forward to most about this next stage in your academic life?

I was excited to learn how to hone my curiosity into asking meaningful questions that can be probed scientifically.

Have there been any surprises so far?

The biggest surprise of grad school thus far has been the time and freedom I've had to explore. Everyone I've interacted with from peers to course instructors has been very supportive in discussing and guiding me in investigating my research questions.


A South Asian man with glasses smiles in the foreground. Mountains and trees are behind him.

Shashank Mehendale

Shashank holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Physics from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata. For his master's thesis, he worked on quantum simulation of field theories at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. Currently, his research at UTSC delves into the crossroads of physics and chemistry, where he explores the applications of quantum computers. 

Where did your interest in chemistry come from?

During my masters, as I began to study the physics of quantum many-body systems, I gained a deep appreciation for quantum chemistry as a quintessential example. With my formal training in Physics, I found it intriguing that molecules can be studied from a first principle perspective. The allure grew stronger when I learned that quantum computers can possibly surpass classical computers in tackling problems from quantum chemistry. This realization motivated me to pursue my career in Chemistry, with a keen focus on its dynamic intersection with Physics.

What were you looking forward to most as you began your graduate studies here at U of T?

Given the research diversity of the department, I was looking forward to engage with fellow researchers and explore various interesting fields. And of course being an international student, I was also excited to explore the city and its culture!

Were there any surprises?

While academically I had a smooth transition to the graduate school, on the research side, I was particularly surprised to see how limited my understanding was and how vast the science is!