The Current recently got the chance to sit down and talk with Dr. John Di Guglielmo. Dr. Guglielmo is an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. Many students might recognize him from courses such as Physiology 3140, Pharmacology 4360, and Physiology 4520. Here’s what he had to say to us.

Would you like to introduce yourself
and what you teach?

J: I’m John Di Guglielmo, and I’m an associate professor in Physiology and Pharmacology. I teach and manage Cell Physiology 3140, I also lecture in Pharm 4360, which is Mechanisms of Cancer Chemotherapy, and I do a couple of lectures in Physiology 4520, which is Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, and I also manage a graduate-level course called, From Bench to Bedside, which is basically molecular techniques from the bench all the way to how it is used in medicine.

What is your favourite part of the job?

J: My favourite part of the job is the fact that no two days are exactly alike. One day I could be working on a paper, and the next I could be working on a grant. Another day could be lecturing in front of 350 students, or talking to graduate students and lecturing to them. Every day has new challenges, and so the job never gets boring.

Did you become a professor for the teaching aspect, or
do you really enjoy the research aspect?

J: I think both. In undergrad, I really wanted to go to medical school, and what ended up happening is that I did a fourth-year independent research project. When I did this project, I found that I really enjoyed it, and saw what the lifestyle of my supervisor was, which is essentially what I am doing now. My supervisor would interact with students, colleagues, wrote grants, and taught, and I really liked that aspect of it, which is what inspired me to go into academia. I put academic blinders on, and that is the only thing I pursued. I also did some guest lecturing for my supervisor, which I really enjoyed.

What would you say has been one of the
most rewarding moments of being a professor?

J: It is very rewarding to be on stage at convocation, and hood the graduate students who have come through the lab. When I see PhD students publish papers, I feel really proud of that. I also like bumping into undergraduate students in the hallway, and they say they enjoyed the course that I taught. Another rewarding moment was I got a teaching award last year, so I was pretty excited about that.

Where did you go for undergrad?

J: I went to McGill, and did grad school there as well. I was born and raised in Montreal, so McGill was the obvious place to go. After, during my fourth year, I did my independent research project, and the lab I joined as a grad student, I really liked the people and the research they were doing, so that became a natural transition from undergrad to graduate school.

If you could go back and give your undergrad
self any advice, what would it be?

J: It is easy to do well in courses that really interest you. Although biochemistry is great, and I am happy where I am, I think I would have done even better as an undergrad student if I was in Cell Biology, or maybe Physiology, which are things that really grip my interest. Biochemistry was a little difficult to study for, and aspects of the Kreb Cycle still haunt me to this day. There are certain things I didn’t appreciate, and thought that I had to do, but if you really want to succeed, take a lot of courses that you really enjoy.

What ends up happening is, when you go to graduate school, it doesn’t really matter what your undergrad was in, as long as it is still in the Sciences. A Biochemistry student can go into Physiology, Pharmacology, Cell Biology. Students from Cell Biology can go into Biochemistry. PhD students tend to do the same techniques, regardless of what program they’re in. Also you need information from Biochemistry and Physiology or Pharmacology to do your project. You will fill in gaps of knowledge at the higher levels, but it doesn’t really matter where you came from.

Coming full circle, if you like Cell Biology over Biochemistry, go and do Cell Biology, because you can still go and do a PhD in Biochemistry if you change your mind, and vice versa.

  • What is one thing you think most students don’t know about you?

J: I’m into using Youtube to self-improve. I used it to learn how to play guitar, bake French desserts and most recently 3D printing. I can use 3D printing to make plate holders for the lab, but it’s amazing what you can make with a 3D printer. One of my former students/Post-doc got me into this, and made an amazing adaptor, and made screws with plastic which could attach to plate holders.

  •  What is your favourite pastime activity?

J: Hanging out with my family, and watching movies. My daughter and I watch a lot of movies. I also like to cook, and trying new things. I also enjoy baking, which is a lot like chemistry. Cooking is an art, baking is a science. Cooking is based on how things brown properly, but baking is the exact combination of ingredients to make a reaction occur.

  • Current favourite song?

J: Right now, for some reason, maybe because I watched Blue Collar with my daughter, I’ve been going to old Sinatra songs. Right now, Fly Me to the Moon is stuck in my head, but will probably change in the next week.

Do you have any phobias or fears?

J: I’m not a big fan of heights.

If you were stranded on an island, who would you want with you, and what one item would you bring along?

J: That’s hard. I think I would bring along my family. The one item I would bring is a library of books.

If you could eat one thing for the rest
of your life, what would it be?

J: That’s a hard one, because I have been asked this question before, and I would say pizza. So I tried an experiment where I ate pizza at least 3 times a week, for almost a month. But, after a while, I got sick of it. Now, I would go with steak, fries and salad.

What advice would you give to an undergrad who isn’t doing so well in classes, but is trying
to make improvements?

J: There are a lot of little things you can do working backwards from the “big picture”. For e.g., a student who has reasonably good grades (but not stellar grades) and wants to go professional school has several options. When in third or fourth-year, they can choose to go to graduate school and then hope to get into professional school later on or come back one more year to bump up their grades. If they aced the MCAT and their marks are pretty good, then graduate school is a good option to explore. At the end of your graduate degree, having submitted (or even better published) a manuscript changes how professional schools perceive of your success in grad school. If you don’t have great marks or need to improve your MCAT score, trying to study for the MCAT while doing graduate school might be more difficult. For those students, I would suggest to do another year, take a few more courses, and get your grades up.

It is important to take courses you like, because you’ll end up doing better in courses that you enjoy. So in third and fourth-year, I don’t know how much freedom you have, take as many courses that you really enjoy because it can dictate how well you do.

If there’s a topic you don’t understand, go to visual explanations of the concept because it makes it easier to understand than just reading from a textbook. If I could learn how to play guitar from YouTube, then it can certainly help clarify complex mechanisms that you are learning in your courses.

Special thanks to Arthur Leung for pictures, and Michael Groff for editing.

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