The Honours Biology and Pharmacology program offered by McMaster University has switched Faculties for its administration, to the Faculty of Health Sciences.

It has always been a joint program between the Faculties of Science and Health Sciences but its administration had been housed in the Faculty of Science for almost 30 years.

Jan Huizinga, director and academic advisor of the program, said the move is a logical one as the program was founded by the Faculty of Health Sciences, and its faculty members have served as instructors since its earliest days.

"It was time for the program to come home to the Faculty of Health Sciences," said Huizinga, who has been involved with the program for approximately 20 years. He is a professor in the Department of Medicine at McMaster. "As well, since pharmacology is such a big part of medicine, it only makes sense for the program to be based here."

Students who started in September 2018 will receive an Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) degree upon completion. Existing students prior to that date will have a choice of continuing as a BSc student or switching to a BHSc degree. There is currently a total of 56 students in the three-year program.

The popular Honours Biology and Pharmacology Program, known around campus simply as BioPharm, offers a unique blend of instruction with the principles of problem-based learning and an extensive mandatory co-operative education component. Links with the Faculty of Science will remain strong as the co-op work terms will continue to be administered and facilitated by the Faculty's Science Career and Education office.

Students enter the program after two years of an Honours Biology, Life Sciences or an equivalent program. Candidates are interviewed to ensure their suitability for problem-based learning and co-operative work term placements, and then begin their first co-op work term after completing at least three full years of university training.

Sarah Cash, a fourth-year BioPharm student, is finishing her second work term at McMaster's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute within the Mick Bhatia lab. Bhatia is the scientific director of the institute and a professor in biochemistry and biomedical sciences.

Cash's research examines the cytoreductive effects of chemotherapy and induction of relapse in Acute Myeloid Leukemia patients. Her future plans include completing post-graduate education within the pharmacology field, and entering the pharmaceutical industry. 

"The BioPharm program has many impressive qualities, including the ability for students to design a unique undergraduate experience, by having the freedom to construct their own scientific trajectory consisting of three, four-month co-op placements and a thesis project," said Cash, co-president of the McMaster Biology and Pharmacology Society.

"Additionally, the problem-based learning setting of this program motivates all students to excel due to the cohesive environment formed each year, creating a family-like atmosphere, where all students of the program encourage their peers' success."

Enrolment for the BioPharm program is currently capped at 20 students a year, but may increase in the coming years, said Huizinga.

Co-op placements are in such places as university laboratories across the country, the pharmaceutical industry, biotech start-up companies, and the Government of Canada.

"Based on the feedback we receive, it is wonderful how much the co-op component benefits the students, and how beneficial co-op students are to their placement sites," said Huizinga.

"Many of our students get a job at one of their co-op placements. Many also go to graduate school where they work with a professor from their placement."

Huizinga said another draw of the program is its practical application upon completion.

"While some of our students go on to further education, for those who don't, they have a much broader skill set and 12 months of work experience," he said. "The reason we started the program 27 years ago was to give students a skill set so they can confidently apply for whatever they would like."

Jacob Curtis, a fifth-year BioPharm student, completed his first two co-op work terms at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor investigating the effects of low-dose ionizing radiation on both normal and cancer cell survival. He worked under the supervision of Carmel Mothersill, a biology professor in the Faculty of Science and the Canada Research Chair in Radiobiology.

His final co-op term that finished in December was at Cornerstone Research Group in Burlington where he was part of the evidence synthesis team reviewing medical literature and conducting data analysis to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of pharmaceutical products.

"In addition to the tradition of academic excellence and the opportunity to gain 12 months of relevant research experience with three co-op terms, in my opinion, there is no other program at McMaster that better prepares students for personal and professional success," said Curtis, who is co-president of the McMaster Biology and Pharmacology Society.

"The small class sizes in the BioPharm program allow the development of lasting relationships with my passionate peers and dedicated professors, while acquiring extensive multidisciplinary knowledge of concepts related to pharmacology."

Curtis said the program's administrative change will open doors for students.

"The transition of the program to the Faculty of Health Sciences, allowing students to graduate with a BHSc, will not change the personalized student experience which makes the program special," says Curtis, who is looking to pursue a career in health care. "I believe, if anything, this transition will give students more opportunities in health care, academia, industry and government post-graduation."

Administrative and student support for the program is now housed in the Faculty of Health Sciences at HSC-2E21A, where Stephanie Cusick is available to assist at

For more information about the Honours Biology and Pharmacology program or to apply, contact Jan Huizinga at