Kunal Kolhatkar, Immunology

Kunal Kolhatkar

“Fake it ‘til you make it” – this common expression has worked surprisingly well in my personal  experience. When I am unsure about handling a situation, I envision how more successful people would handle the situation and I then try to emulate them until I feel confident in my own abilities. When it came to my first leadership position as Co-President of the Immunology Students’ Association (IMMSA), I used this tried-and-tested expression to become the type of leader I pictured in my head. The three individuals I chose to learn from were Terry Fox, Lionel Messi, and Genghis Khan; while this trio seems like a rather bizarre line-up, each illustrates 1 of  my 3 core leadership values: Passion, Trust, and Merit.

Terry Fox was recently voted “The Greatest Canadian” due to his unparalleled passion for raising both awareness and funds for cancer research. His inspirational story of running over 5000 kilometers in just 143 days with 1 amputated leg has resulted in hundreds of millions in cancer research funding and epitomizes how passion can drive incredible results. In my role as Co-President, I strive to choose initiatives for IMMSA that I am personally passionate about because it provides an intrinsic drive to produce the best results possible. For example, I founded a new lecture series called “Intro to Immunology Techniques” because I remembered feeling lost in my 2nd-year classes when my lecturers would mention techniques like Flow Cytometry and ELISA. By creating this series, I aim to connect experienced graduate students with interested undergraduates so that other students will not feel as lost as I did.

Lionel Messi is one of the best soccer players in history because his combination of unmatched individual talent and outstanding teamwork allowed his team to outwit any other team they played. By learning to trust anyone on the team to make the best pass or take the best shot, Messi and his team could make plays that no other team could and therefore dominate the soccer world for over a decade. As the leader of IMMSA, I also aim to develop mutual trust with my executive team so that I feel confident entrusting them with planning/running   events and they feel confident coming to me for support. When IMMSA organizes an event, I do not plan the event alone but instead delegate the event planning to 2-3 executives and then create a group chat with them and myself. This way, the executives can plan the event while simultaneously keeping me up-to-date and asking for support as needed. The success of this method is evidenced by IMMSA’s track record of holding multiple events every month this year without any issues.

Genghis Khan is a controversial figure; while his empire was religiously tolerant and provided unparalleled safety, it was built on non-stop conquests that claimed millions of lives. However, Genghis Khan was undoubtedly a great military leader due to innovative tactics – one notable decision was promoting officers based on merit rather than social standing. Not only did this make his armies strategically superior to those of his opponents, but it also allowed captured individuals to integrate and earn high positions in his empire rather than being ostracised. Khan’s meritocracy allowed him to unite feuding tribes in modern-day Mongolia and ultimately establish the largest contiguous land empire in history. Similarly, I place a strong emphasis on merit and equal opportunity and aim to embody this in my leadership position. For example, I chose to broaden IMMSA’s annual research conference from only Ontario and Quebec to a Canada-wide conference because I knew the conference allowed students to be exposed to other research topics, connect with students/researchers at other institutions, and present at research conferences. I wanted to extend these opportunities to every student across Canada so that students at underrepresented universities would have the same chance to succeed as students are larger institutions.

By emulating other individuals who embody my values of passion, trust, and merit, I have grown into my abilities as a leader at IMMSA and in my broader university community. I have been fortunate to learn so much from my team members about how to be a better leader and I look forward to applying those to my future leadership roles.