UTSG: Black Career Conference

Jointly hosted by the Black Students Association, BRC, and the National Society of Black Engineers, the Black Career Conference presents a day filled with workshops and networking with reps from across industries!

How artificial intelligence could guide drug discovery

Prediction tools can rein in the risks of finding new medications

How artificial intelligence could guide drug discovery

Drug discovery is traditionally a high-risk and resource-intensive process — so much so that it has drawn comparisons to gambling.

Brendan Frey, a U of T professor, put it bluntly: “It’s like the Big Pharma companies come into a casino, put a million-dollar coin into a slot machine, and with some probability like 10 per cent or something, they get a win.”

But recently, a growing trend in the field is reducing uncertainty around drug discovery by using artificial intelligence (AI) as a prediction tool. Dr. Christine Allen, a professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, together with post-doctoral researcher Pauric Bannigan, recently published a review paper on the subject in the Journal of Controlled Release.

How AI can be used to reduce risks in drug discovery

“Let’s say that in our lab… we have a drug, and [it’s] really hydrophobic [repellent of water],” said Allen in an interview with The Varsity. To give such a drug orally, which would expose it to water, researchers must decide on the components that they will need to use in order to make the tablet or capsule ready for delivery. They must also decide on the ratio between those components and the active drug.

Researchers normally conduct a high number of experiments to find these solutions, Allen explained. However, the emergence of prediction tools based on AI can significantly change the process of experimentation.

As Bannigan describes, AI prediction tools have the potential to narrow the starting point from which researchers have to begin experimenting from. By eliminating incompatible solutions, AI can guide scientists toward potential avenues for success, thus saving both time and money.

Guided by these tools, pharmaceutical researchers may hypothetically only need 10 experiments to test promising solutions with AI, as opposed to 100 experiments to test most possibilities, he explained.

Case studies of AI used in drug discovery

Real-life examples of the applications of AI were drawn from the book Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence, which was cited multiple times in the review paper.

Dr. Avi Goldfarb, a professor at the Rotman School of Management, is a co-author of the book. He wrote to The Varsity that AI prediction tools can have significant and specialized meaning to the pharmaceutical industry.

For example, Atomwise, a company that predicts the binding of molecules with proteins, can “increase the success [rate] of early stage experiments in the drug discovery process and increase the number of successful drugs that come to market.”

BenchSci is another company that makes it easier for scientists to search the relevant literature by predicting which content is relevant to a particular need.

“[BenchSci] is also aimed at improving the drug discovery process,” wrote Goldfarb.

Current applications

There is a growing trend of Big Pharma companies partnering with those specializing in AI, according to the review paper.

As an example, Allen recalled Novartis, which “dealt with Intel to try and reduce the amount of time required to analyze microscopic images.”

Allen’s research group has now started collaborating with U of T professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik, who has significant expertise in applying AI to chemistry. The teams have been working together to use algorithms that could help predict which materials could be best used for drug discovery.

The impact of AI on human involvement

As for the impact of AI on researchers, Allen noted that as AI tools get more involved in industries, human judgement remains highly valued,  and is one of the main ideas of Prediction Machines.

“You might predict the likelihood of rain, but without judgment on how much you mind getting wet and how much you mind carrying an umbrella then the prediction alone won’t tell you what to do,” wrote Goldfarb.

While AI could guide researchers by providing predictions, Goldfarb noted that their human judgement would still be valuable in deciding what to do with the predictions once they have them.

In conversation with Rini Sharma

Rotman MBA student talks media, entertainment, technology

In conversation with Rini Sharma

Among students making their mark in the field of business is Rini Sharma, part of the Rotman School of Management and a member of the Rotman Entertainment & Media Association. The Varsity caught up with Sharma to discuss her experience as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) student.

The Varsity: What does your role in the Rotman Entertainment & Media Association entail?

Rini Sharma: I’m currently serving as Vice-President External for the Entertainment & Media Association at Rotman. My role involves building relationships with industry leaders and connecting them to our student community at Rotman through the medium of events and other platforms.

TV: What kind of work does the Rotman Entertainment & Media Association do?

RS: The Entertainment & Media Association at Rotman is working on bridging the gap between MBA students and Toronto’s growing media and entertainment sector. Our goal is to help students identify and create opportunities for themselves in a manner which combines their business skills with their passion for the media and entertainment sector.

To do this, we planned various events over the 2019–2020 school year which will provide students with hands-on skill-building through case competitions, as well as networking opportunities through our industry night event, set to be held later in the year. And, last but not least, I’ve been lucky enough to produce and host my own personal project with the club, the Rotman Thoughtcast, which is Rotman’s upcoming official podcast series.

TV: What are some of the productions you’ve worked on?

RS: Prior to starting at Rotman I was working at Shaftesbury, a leading Canadian media production company, as a development and production analyst. I’ve worked on several major projects, including CBC’s most highly-rated program Murdoch Mysteries, CBC’s Frankie Drake Mysteries and Netflix’s Slasher. I was also involved in Hudson & Rex from Citytv and Shaftesbury’s latest drama series Departure, from GlobalTV, in their early stages of development.

TV: What or who has been your greatest influence in starting a business career?

RS: My dad, who has taught me the values of integrity, persistence, and relationship-building in the world of business.

TV: When did you think to combine two seemingly-different fields of technology and business?

RS: While I’ve always been curious to learn about new technologies, it was only after I joined Rotman that I observed how emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, are disrupting several different industries besides media. Moreover, I spent my summer interning at a tech accelerator, which made me realize how important it is to have a viable business strategy in order to grow and scale new technologies.

TV: How has your experience been, managing your education while also managing your career?

RS: The MBA program is a huge time commitment which essentially requires you to work on academics and career simultaneously, since day one. It hasn’t been easy. However, I love a good challenge and I’m enjoying every bit of it.

TV: How do you think an MBA has prepared you for your field?

RS: Aside from the core academic learnings, my experience in the MBA program has enabled me to enhance my time management, leadership, and communication skills — and that shall go a long way in any field!

TV: What has been your experience in media been like?

RS: In my experience in the media industry, I’ve been lucky enough to work in an environment where I was mentored by strong women leaders. That being said, it is still an evolving space for a woman of colour to be in. There’s a long way to go before we, as the audience, start perceiving stories about Mindy Kaling as anything other than a factor of her immigrant experiences.

TV: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

RS: Finding and carving my own unique niche within an institute full of 650 bright and ambitious minds.

TV: What are some tips that you have for anyone pursuing a career in business?

RS: For anyone wanting to pursue an MBA, I would recommend knowing your own personal goals before choosing a particular school or stream. In the world of business, I think it is very important to have an open and flexible mind in order to be successful in today’s globalized economy. Always strive to expose yourself to different experiences, people, and cultures.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This profile is part of an ongoing series to highlight women in business.

UTSG: Malcolm Gladwell on “Talking to Strangers”

Join us for the Big Ideas Speaker Series at Rotman for discussion on “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know” (Little, Brown and Company, Sept. 10, 2019)

SPEAKER: Malcolm Gladwell, Staff Writer, “The New Yorker”; Host, Revisionist History podcast; #1 “New York Times” Bestselling Author

IN CONVERSATION WITH: Heather Reisman, Founder and CEO, Indigo Books & Music Inc.

BOOK SYNOPSIS: Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and #1 bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, David and Goliath, and What the Dog Saw, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers—and why they often go wrong. How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true? Talking to Strangers is a classically Gladwellian intellectual adventure, a challenging and controversial excursion through history, psychology, and scandals taken straight from the news. He revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal at Penn State University, and the death of Sandra Bland—throwing our understanding of these and other stories into doubt. Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world. In his first book since his #1 bestseller, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell has written a gripping guidebook for troubled times.

COST: $36.99 plus HST per person (includes 1 hardcover copy of “Talking to Strangers” and 1 seat for the talk)

Convocation Hall
University of Toronto
31 King’s College Circle
Toronto ON


UTSG: Secrets of the Best Leaders: 4 Short Talks

In the Fall 2019 issue of Rotman Management Magazine we share a wide array of “Secrets of the Best Leaders”. From knowing how to make a strategic pivot to understanding today’s ‘needs-adaptive’ consumer to creating an inclusive workplace to preparing for a cyber attack – these are secrets you won’t want to keep to yourself. Join us for TED-style talks by four contributors as we launch the Fall issue.

Claire Tsai, Associate Professor of Marketing, Rotman and Co-founder of Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman on “Understanding the Needs-Adaptive Consumer”

Zayna Khayat, Adjunct Professor and Executive-in-Residence, Rotman on “How to Make a Strategic Pivot”

Michael Cherny (Rotman Commerce ‘11), Chief of Staff, Deloitte Canada on “Creating an Inclusive Workplace”

Michael Parent, Professor of Management Information Systems and Marketing, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University on “Preparing for Your Next Cyber Attack”

COST: $18.95 plus HST per person (includes 1 copy of the Fall 2019 issue of “Rotman Management” Magazine and 1 seat for the 4 talks)

VENUE: Rotman School of Management


Professor Dilip Soman named Canada Research Chair

Rotman researcher studies how businesses, people make decisions

Professor Dilip Soman named Canada Research Chair

Most people say that the elevation of Mount Everest is 29,000 feet, forgetting the final 29 feet. During the last 29 feet is when the bad things occur — people fall prey to physical exhaustion, give up mentally, and get caught. People often put in a lot less effort at the end compared to the hard work and preparation that has led them to these last steps.

Similarly, most companies spend much of their effort on at the beginning, from the product design, brand strategy, and optimization of the production process in the hopes of putting out the best product on the shelves. Companies often forget about the final step, where customers enter the store and talk to a salesperson or click a website, to make the choice of whether to purchase the product.

This irrational shortcoming of human behaviour is what caught Professor Dilip Soman’s attention.

In 1992, Soman began his PhD program at the University of Chicago where he focused on marketing and management. However, he was drawn to the implications of consumer behaviour on the market and decided to delve into the field of behavioural economics: the study of how cognitive and emotional factors affect the decision-making processes of individuals and institutions.

Twenty-seven years later, Soman is the Director of the Behavioural Economics in the Action Research Centre at Rotman (BEAR) and serves as a Senior Policy Advisor on the Impact and Innovation Unit for the Government of Canada, while fulfilling his teaching duties at the Rotman School of Management.

“So much [of behavioural economics] I think is interesting because it says that there’s a deviation between what people want to do and what they end up doing,” Soman told The Varsity.

Now, Soman holds the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Science and Economics. The Canada Research Chairs Program aims to help chairholders launch Canada into the forefront of research and development.

Making choices easier

The presentation of choices to individuals and consumers can impact their decision-making. Different designs can either facilitate action or impede it. “As a behavioral scientist, my contribution is that I can help consumers — you must see that and I can help organizations see that,” said Soman.

He went on to explain that, “People are impulsive, people don’t think too much about the future. They’re emotional. Anything in the context that exaggerates those tendencies tends to make people deviate from what they should do.”

Small and seemingly irrelevant details that make a task more challenging often make the difference between doing something and putting it off. Opting out of email subscription lists appears to be a menial task that will declutter our inboxes and make our lives a little bit easier, but because it is so complicated and inconvenient many people stay subscribed to email lists.

It is easy to see this tendency for people to deviate from what they intend to do becoming a lot more problematic — think retirement saving options and health care plans. When choices are confusing and require more effort to understand, people tend to stick with the default, even if it does not benefit them much, or at all.

Soman’s work consists of developing tools to help government officials and businesses create architecture that guides individuals to make choices that are in their best interests. It has a heavy focus on bridging the gap between the ideas of behavioural economics and how to practically implement those ideas in a real-world setting.

Soman’s work at the BEAR is a prime example of his contributions toward converting academic ideas in behavioural science to implementation-oriented framework.

“Our biggest work is in scaling what we know in the lab to the marketplace… with the goal of shifting the research agenda in behavioural science from the big ideas to where can we use it and how,” said Soman.

On being a Canada Research Chair

The Varsity asked Soman what it means for him to be named the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Science and Economics, a prestigious title awarded to Canada’s most outstanding scholars.

Rather than reflecting upon his personal achievements, Soman viewed his appointment as a larger recognition of the field of behavioural economics.

“I think it’s more a recognition for the field… [that] this is the first candidate chair at the intersection of Behavioral Science and Economics,” said Soman.

Whereas the government has worked with an economic assumption of citizens’ decision-making when drafting policy, Soman believes that his appointment as the first Canada Research Chair in the field of behavioural economics marks a changing attitude towards the idea that people are not always rational actors.

“That’s a big acknowledgement for the fact that the field is now not only considered legitimate, but that it can impact society,” said Soman. “I think once there’s a Canada Research Chair in behavioural economics… all [of the] ideas of our team are now much more easily received.”

On what’s next

Soman wants to do more than understand the existing friction organizations have in place that prevents individuals from making good decisions — he wants to reduce it by applying the tools of behavioural economics to the complex problems of the real-world.

His main priorities for the upcoming years include converting academic findings into accessible information that businesses and individuals can digest; incorporating the ideas of behavioural economics toward a preventative health system; and improving the financial literacy of average citizens by using smart choice architecture to help people make better economic decisions.

Despite being an expert in understanding human imperfections in decision-making, Soman is the first to admit his shortcomings. He is currently working on his latest book, About Time, but when The Varsity inquired about the book, Soman confessed that he hasn’t had the time to work on it yet.

“I mean, one of the reasons I studied this stuff I’m doing is I’m pretty bad myself,” joked Soman. “I procrastinate.”

UTSG: Sarah Kaplan on “The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation”

Book Synopsis:  The business world is no longer entirely a “total returns to shareholders” game. Corporations are increasingly expected to address the interests of multiple stakeholders through corporate social responsibility. This pressure comes from “clicktivists,” socially-conscious consumers, Millennials, and a new generation of investors focused on ESG (environmental, social and governance) standards. The urgency for moving beyond the “bottom line” mindset has never been greater. Yet, the popular “shared value” framework uses a business case logic to inspire companies to find win-win solutions. But what if there is no win-win? How can companies cope when the interests of the shareholder and those of other stakeholders such as communities, workers, consumers, suppliers, and the environment conflict irreconcilably? This book is designed to provide answers to these questions, showing leaders how to engage with stakeholders to create possibilities for everyone, and to foster innovative business model transformation. Companies can look through the lenses of different stakeholders—taking a 360° view—and see new ways of doing business. The 360° Corporation is an organization that can tackle the tensions created by these trade-offs, and this book offers signposts to leaders who want to spearhead the 360° revolution. Using rich case studies of Walmart, Nike and other leading companies, this book shows every organization can address its trade-offs. Sometimes there’s a “win-win”; sometimes, creative thinking may lead to innovation; and, other times companies will have to thrive in irreconcilable tensions. The 360° Corporation addresses all of these modes of action, serving as a comprehensive playbook for managers, CEOs, and innovators who are burned out by constantly being tugged in many different directions. 

About Our Speaker: Sarah Kaplan is Director and Professor – Institute for Gender and the Economy, Distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy and Professor of Strategic Management, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. She is a Senior Fellow with the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at the Wharton School at  University of Pennsylvania.  Sarah is co-author of the New York Times best-seller Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market–And How to Successfully Transform Them (Broadway Business, 2003) and co-author of Survive and Thrive: Winning Against Strategic Threats to Your Business (Dog Ear Publishing, 2017).  Her new book The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation will be published by Stanford Business Books on September 3, 2019. 

$36.00 plus HST per person (includes 1 signed hardcover copy of “The 360° Corporation”, 1 seat for the book talk and the drinks reception)

U of T leaders, Consul-General of Japan on the processes of “Mentoring Women Leaders”

Rotman hosts panel discussion on women as leaders in the workplace

U of T leaders, Consul-General of Japan on the processes of “Mentoring Women Leaders”

On International Women’s Day, the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Rotman Faculty of Management co-hosted “Mentoring Women Leaders,” a symposium featuring discussions on leadership, the value of mentoring, and the importance of building inclusive spaces for gender minorities.

In Rotman’s Desautels Hall, the event commenced with a keynote speech delivered by U of T Chancellor Rose Patten, followed by a panel discussion with three speakers: Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s Vice-President Human Resources & Equity; Rachel Silvey, the Richard Charles Lee Director of the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy; and Takako Ito, the Consul-General of Japan in Toronto.

In her speech, Patten said that the century that we have celebrated International Women’s Day has been a century of “opportunity to celebrate the central role that women have played internationally and in countries around the world in the advancement of peace and justice.”

What does good leadership actually look like?

Before mentorship comes leadership. Mentorship can only exist if leaders allow it to; mentorship can only operate effectively and as intended if leaders allow it to. Throughout her career, Patten noticed the flaws resulting from assuming that leadership is timeless. Context and conditions, she said, need to be recognized, understood, and translated into what is important for the given moment.

“Leadership is not timeless,” she said. “It has shelf-life.”

Hannah-Moffat added that women in leadership introduce the necessary diversity of perspectives to address the increasing complexity of today’s problems.

“Here at the University of Toronto, we recognize this, and we embody this, and we have a deep commitment to both equity and diversity, and inclusion,” she said.

According to U of T’s Employment Equity Report 2016-2017, 47 per cent of faculty and librarians and 66 per cent of its staff self-identify as women. According to Hannah-Moffat, the university’s employment equity rates are 29 per cent higher than the global average for labour markets for public institutions. “But that’s not good enough because we recognize that even though we’re good with equity in employment, we have to ensure that we retain our talent. And to retain we mentor and promote that talent.”

Intersectionality, and when ‘good’ is not good enough  

Hannah-Moffat spoke critically of the nuanced nature of promoting gender minorities in work.

“To think about women as a homogeneous category is highly problematic,” she said. Women’s diversity functions along race, sexuality, and literacy lines. “To be as excellent as we strive to be at this university, if we are to embody the principles of International Women’s Day, then we need to look beyond just women and to the complexities and nuances of what [this means].” To simply make room for women is not enough.

Ito spoke to her experience as Consul-General in noting Japan’s commitment to Womenomics, the notion that women’s development and economic strength are inexorably connected in today’s world.

She said that if women are without barriers and allowed the same economic participation as men, Japan could expect a 30 per cent increase in GDP. Similarly, Silvey commented on her research on care work — typically associated with women — and work that is often misunderstood and therefore overlooked. “Care work is essential to making everything else possible. It connects the formal and informal economies,” she said.  

Hannah-Moffat stressed that these issues do not end at walls of institutions and corporations. “Gender parity, diversity, and inclusion are not just women’s issues, not just work issues, and not just university issues,” she said. “They’re also economic, political, and social issues that impact all of us.”

The importance of mentorship    

Patten referenced the opportunity to uncover both weaknesses and hidden strengths for both mentors and mentees. It is this self-awareness that paves way for better leadership with the ability to adjust and adapt.  

When asked about the most meaningful experiences of working with their respective mentors, the panelists spoke of gaining perspective, accepting and understanding one’s own mistakes, and the strength in battling the numerous challenges they faced while simultaneously accepting what is not within their own control.

Gender issues as we understand them today are confined within physical spaces. But as the panelists note, the impacts of good leadership and mentorship go beyond our university and our workplace.

Positive mentorship allows women to make a difference on a global scale.