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Sarah Rassenberg

Chemical & Biomedical Engineering, Level IV (Port Dover, ON)

Co-op has taught me to think outside my comfort zone and come up with ideas that could be tested to improve the technique, some of which I was able to test independently! The opportunity to help develop a technique that aids in environmental toxicity testing has sparked my passion for research and I now hope to pursue a master’s degree after I graduate. 

Favourite McMaster Engineering moment/memory?

My favourite McMaster Engineering moment must be when I felt the supportive community McMaster Engineering had to offer. It is a two-part story – one where I was the mentee and the other where I was the mentor. In my first year, I was studying with some friends at Thode and we were having issues with a physics question, and we got some help from an upper year – one that we had never met. It gave us a strong sense of community since an upper year we had never met before was so willing and happy to help us. The other half of the story comes into play at a co-op return to campus event - the ability to share experiences with other students and hopefully providing some advice was really fulfilling for me. On top of that, a first-year student recognized me during this event as a former tour guide, it made me really happy to hear they decided to come to McMaster and are motivated to learn more about coop and its opportunities.

How have you found balance in managing your demanding academic schedule? 

In my experience, I find it helpful to be involved in clubs, teams, and work. It helped me balance the academic load more since I had commitments to more than just my courses, which helped me organize my time more efficiently. I find it helpful to set myself reminders the day before something is due or when I have an appointment (ie. Google or outlook calendar) to ensure I make time for it the following day. Writing sticky notes and placing them on my desk or on a cork board is also extremely helpful since I am not always able to add things to my calendar at the moment.

Tell us about your co-op experiences! What were some of your big takeaways from these opportunities? 

My coop experiences consist of a technician for the University of Guelph at their research station away from campus, and a research assistant at the Latulippe Lab. Key takeaways from both experiences are motivation for improvement and the importance of lab notes/communication. While working with Patrick Morkus on a wastewater biocide detection kit, I learned the importance of efficiency, the design of an experiment, and well-written lab notes. I continued working part-time after my first summer there and being able to look back at experiments we had performed 4 or more months ago made me realize how important keeping track of procedures is. Secondly, I learned the importance of designing an experiment in terms of size, time, and data collection. For example, the kit that we are developing aims to test the toxicity of a wastewater sample in 10 minutes – compared to the several hours it can take to perform the industry standard. Co-op has taught me to think outside my comfort zone and come up with ideas that could be tested to improve the technique, some of which I was able to test independently! The opportunity to help develop a technique that aids in environmental toxicity testing has sparked my passion for research and I now hope to pursue a master’s degree after I graduate. If you get the chance to work as a research assistant, I would highly recommend it since the professors at McMaster are very motivated and supportive and can act as mentors during your university career. 

 What are some of your future career aspirations and how is your degree supporting this goal?

As I mentioned previously, my goal is to pursue a master’s degree which was inspired by working as a research assistant. In chemical engineering, I have gained experience in coding, designing experiments, process simulation, and bioseparation techniques. Certain aspects of each of these courses were found in the research I was doing which really motivated me to take away everything I could from a course since I knew it would help me in the future. I learned how to write generalizable code in numerical methods which has stuck by my side since that course and I have used it in most courses and in research (it even helped me with another midterm)! Many of the chemical engineering courses also contain components of economics and business which help us estimate how much our design will cost and the environmental and societal impacts of it. In terms of my future career and masters degree – this will improve the attention to detail, quality, and depth of my work, while allowing me to explore career opportunities in multiple fields.

What’s your favourite part of Hamilton?

I am torn between the fact that there is a Cinnabon in Limeridge mall and all the waterfalls! In terms of exploring new trails and nature, with Hamilton being the city of waterfalls, I am in my natural habitat. Tiffany Falls is just a short bus ride away from campus and I went there during my first week at McMaster! 

What's something special and fun we should know about you?

My favourite place to relax is outdoors - especially in Algonquin park. I enjoy going up there every fall to hike and nurture my hobby of photography. I am always looking for new trails to explore, if there are any you have to share, I would love to hear about them!

Connect with Sarah!