Lucia Chehade is a graduate student at the University of Ottawa with a degree in Biomedical Sciences. Her current research training is in cellular and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases. She recently won the Vanier graduate scholarship being 1 in 70 nationwide to receive this prestigious award as a direct testament to her life-long achievements in academia, medicine, and much more. I recently sat down with Lucia and provided her with the opportunity to share her academic journey with our Go2Grad Tutors community. I started off the interview asking her to tell us a little bit more about herself.
“My name is Lucia, I'm 25, turning 26 this year. I was actually born in Beirut, Lebanon. I immigrated to Canada at the age of 10 and I grew up in Ottawa. I'm the oldest in a family of five kids. I have a sister and three brothers. I went to high school in Ottawa, and after finishing high school, I attended the University of Ottawa to complete a bachelor's in biomedical sciences. Following that, I began doing research in my last year which allowed me to transition into a Master's program. While I was doing my master's in biochemistry, I got accepted to the MD Ph.D. program, which is where I'm at right now. I've already completed two years of medicine and one year of Ph.D. So I have four more years to go before I finish my double degree.”
After hearing a little about her academic interests, I decided to ask Lucia what intrigues her in her free time, what activities or hobbies does she have.
“Given that I'm very busy with school, there isn't really much time to be doing a lot of things, but there are a few things that I enjoy doing. When I get the chance, I like to spend time with my family and friends. That's the second priority on my list and I usually enjoy doing any sort of activity with them. Whether it's hanging out at a restaurant or doing some sort of outdoorsy activity like hiking, or biking. I do enjoy gatherings. I love hosting people at my house, making food, going to restaurants. I consider myself a foodie you could say. And, aside from that, when it comes to just like on my own personal time, I've recently discovered that I love cooking. So since I moved out, I began learning how to cook. I do experiment with recipes and sometimes baking. I'm not that good at baking, but I try every now and then. The other thing that is kind of a hidden talent for me because I don't get around to doing it as much is painting. I discovered that I could use a brush and actually make it. So every now and then, I sit down and I paint for a few hours. And usually, there's a purpose for the painting. So over the last couple of years, I've been donating my paintings for auctions for mental health, with a mental health initiative. So there's always a message behind the painting that I do.”
I found Lucia’s hobbies to be intriguing and after asking her a little bit more about cooking and if she could share any tips or tricks with me, we moved onto the next question. Being someone who is extremely dedicated to academia and has spent many years of her life in research, I decided to ask Lucia what motivated her to pursue both a medical and a doctorate degree, given that both are tough on their own.
“ Excellent question. I knew from a pretty young age that I was really interested and driven by medicine. So going into university, I kind of had that in the back of my mind. I had done a lot of things in healthcare and I wanted to help out somehow in the healthcare system. With that in mind, medicine was already chosen for me. But in my fourth year of undergrad is when I began doing research. And I was fortunate enough to be in a small lab where I received amazing mentorship, a lot of independence on a small project. And honestly, that's where I discovered that I really enjoyed doing research. There was so much opportunity for creativity and thinking and experimenting with things and trial and error. Whereas, you know, in medicine, when you're treating a patient or when you're seeing a patient, there's no room for that. There's a protocol and you follow a protocol, but in research, sure there's a protocol to follow, but there's still room for creativity. So I found that I really enjoyed it and that's basically what led me to begin a Master's. I was so engaged in the project, and I had a few projects actually, on the goal, one that was more lab bench work another that was clinical so that that's where I got exposure to clinical research and to the whole idea that you can translate what you do in the lab, from your bench to bedside. So that really pushed me to apply to the MD Ph. D. program. Obviously, at the time, I didn't think that I would make it there, given that it's so competitive, but I'm grateful to be here and to actually be doing those two things at the same time.”
After explaining what motivated her, I asked Lucia what she believed to be her secret sauce behind her great success story to inspire the rest of our Go2Grad student body.
“A secret sauce? Honestly, one piece of advice I'd like to tell people is that there's no one way to get to medicine or to research. Everyone does it their own way. And there are many different possibilities to get here. But the one thing or the few things that I could say allowed me to get this far is hard work. So a lot of people tell me, oh, you must be a genius. And I kind of take that as an insult because I don't think I was born a genius and set out. It wasn't written for me necessarily to be doing this. But I am not someone who sits down and can just look at a paper and automatically memorize it for the rest of my life. I actually put in a lot of hours, I would study very hard. Lots of sleepless nights. So hard work is definitely one of the biggest things.
The second thing I would have to say is not giving up, persevering through all of it. Getting here wasn't easy. I wouldn't say things were handed to me right away, I had many struggles which we can talk about later, but I'm persevering and not giving up on my dream to get here is what allowed me to get to where I am. I got rejected twice from med school before getting accepted. So it took me three times to get into med school. I applied twice to the venue and they were both very hard applications that took a lot of time. I needed a lot of support from my mentors and from people that I've worked with in the past. People reviewing my applications and my letters, it took a lot of hard work and just not giving up on the thing I wanted.
I guess the last thing I would say is I'm just being a well-rounded person. I think that getting to medicine or getting the scholarship, especially a venue takes a well-rounded individual. So, I do value those three things like hard work, perseverance, and just overall being well rounded. And I guess I would say that's my secret sauce.”
Hard work, perseverance, and being a well-rounded individual are the three main traits that have got Lucia this far in her great academic journey and will continue to take her to brilliant places in the near future. I thank Lucia for giving me a moment of her time and sharing her thoughts and experiences with me and the rest of our community.