Taking the Master of Cancer Sciences: A student’s experience

Junior study coordinator in clinical trials Farha shares her experience of the online Master of Cancer Sciences – amidst a pandemic – and tells us how it’s improving her role now, and making a positive impact on her career.

Farha Inam, Master of Cancer Sciences graduate

As the incidence of cancer continues to rise across the globe, skilled practitioners in the oncology workforce are in increasing demand, with the need for leaders in cancer care, research, prevention and education similarly important.

Farha, a junior study coordinator in clinical trials at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, is one such professional on this pathway, enhancing her skills and knowledge, and advancing her career, through the Master of Cancer Sciences.

"I wanted to develop my theoretical knowledge in the cancer research field, and I thought this course would help me consolidate and expand my current understandings and expertise of cancer trials, as well as patient management."

While Farha is mid-way through the course, already she has deepened her knowledge and gained practical skills that are improving her current role and will help to progress her career in oncology.

“I’ve developed my professional communication skills, both oral and written, and my knowledge of the foundations of cancer and general understanding of cancer within society has also deepened.”

Another skill she’s developed – which is particularly useful for her current role – is a greater understanding and ability to critique cancer science.

“In the world of science, being able to determine what is quality and what is not meeting the requirements is crucial. Especially in clinical trials, we have to be thorough – making sure we can critique the protocol and processes to ensure the trials are of the utmost quality. This course has helped me understand where the data needs to be better or how to improve cancer research to meet those requirements.”

A key impact of these newly gained skills is confidence, which Farha says is helping her in her role.

“My work in cancer clinical trials is very practical but having that deeper understanding from a theoretical perspective has been very valuable.”

In terms of career progression, “gaining the expertise, having the extra knowledge in how things work in various disciplines” will also help her get further, she says, along with networking.

"Increasing my networking opportunities is one of the major things that will impact my career. A lot of the teachers are experts who I see within my unit or hospital."

In terms of the experience, studying during a pandemic while working full time is challenging. As a result of COVID-19, Farha was also redeployed to help the patient navigators in Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, meaning life has been particularly busy and “sometimes stressful”, affecting how much time she can put into study. But because the Master of Cancer Sciences is online, she’s been able to do it all, fitting study in around her other commitments.

“Studying online is fantastic. It’s so much easier and more convenient. And the teaching team has been wonderful in terms of understanding how the students are affected due to the situation. It hasn’t been as difficult as I anticipated.”

Motivation to study, which Farha thought could be challenging as the course is purely online, has been high thanks to the use of discussion boards and “assessments that require us to engage with our peers”.

“I thought it would be more difficult to connect with my peers, but it hasn’t been like that. It’s been engaging and exciting to be doing the work.”

The Master of Cancer Sciences is Australia’s first cancer-specific, multidisciplinary, and wholly online program.

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