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About Tianwei Ellen Zhou

Tianwei Ellen Zhou obtained her BSc, MD, and PhD degrees from McGill University. She is pursuing her ophthalmology residency at Université de Montréal. Her research focuses on retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a blinding eye disease that affects many premature infants.


“The future is today,” Sir William Osler once said. In medicine as in networking. Our connections today came from the like-minded people we met in the past. And new friendships stem from people we meet today and in the future. If your goal is to excel in your MD-PhD studies, having a health network is the icing on the cake.

We Are All Interdependent

Everyone plays a role in your career. When I was a new graduate student in the laboratory, I asked questions frequently, from troubleshooting western blots to navigating the convoluted ethics’ board approval. I learned tremendously from laboratory technicians who had 20 years of experience in molecular biology. To ask relevant questions rather than trivial ones, it is important to do some independent research beforehand.

As I became a more senior member in the lab, I was able to pay back and pass down experiences to my junior colleagues—teaching culturing techniques for a difficult cell line, training new members on subretinal injections for small rodents, and sharing my thoughts on preparing a successful committee meeting. We also helped each other when some members were absent from the lab. I tended cells (and pet plants) and inspected equipment during Christmas and New Year. Similarly, my colleagues fed my mice when I was away. To this date, even after I graduated from my doctoral training, my colleagues and I still meet from time to time, updating each other on our lives. My lab mates were an important part in my graduate study. Now, my present and future colleagues are just as indispensable.


  • Be friendly—everyone can teach you something.

  • Pay it forward and help others.

  • Find your support groups.

  • Go to conferences and talk to people.

  • Spend some time managing your LinkedIn profile.

A Support Group and an Advisory Board

There is no doubt that your 7–8 years of MD-PhD training are filled with challenges. There will be times that you are juggling experiments, manuscript writing, and preparation for your final exams. Networking and forming a support group with your fellow MD-PhD classmates are helpful. That is because you all are going through the same process, understanding each other. Go grab a dinner with them, and talk about the challenges you are facing.

Sharing your experiences does not only ease the anxiety, but also allows you to come up with a solution as a group. For example, when you are struggling to write a competitive scholarship application, feel free ...

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