Linwen Huang, Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology
Being a leader is not as simple as writing a midterm, it is not something you can learn from a textbook. It is gained from years of trial and error and learning from one’s mistakes. When I look at those in my life who I consider to be leaders, they are not always the most charismatic, or the loudest speakers. Instead, they are willing to take a chance on those they believe in, to lay out the groundwork to allow for other’s success and always possess a drive to improve. Their decisions may result in failure, but they reflect on their actions to ensure continual development as a leader.
Throughout my undergrad, I have strived to learn what it means to be a leader and to develop the skills I admire most in my mentors. In my second year, I chaired a UofT engineering conference, UNERD, that promoted undergraduate innovation and research. Under my leadership, we had the largest attendance in 10 years, of 200+ attendees. Retrospectively I realize many areas I faulted in, such as focusing too heavily on meeting deadlines and overloading team members. However, these past opportunities taught me lessons that I consistently applied in later leadership roles. For example, as Editor in Chief of the Journal of Undergraduate Life Sciences (JULS) I check in on workloads and meet one on one with members who are struggling and provide guidance. These interactions with my team have created open channels of communication to continue to improve JULS. For example, based off a meeting with a member, and constructive feedback from the team, this year marked a huge push to integrate sciences outside of biology, leading to the largest and most diverse submission pool to date. I also spoke to members at UTM and noticed a disparity in the number of publications from different campuses. Accordingly, this prompted me to develop a JULS UTM branch which is essential to foster the development of junior researchers across UofT.
Beyond student governance, I am fascinated by the interface of engineering, medicine and computer science. I have worked on various research projects involving cancer interface devices and software that uses neural networks to identify brain tumours. It was thrilling to present at conferences, and eventually to be able to design my own experiments. I will also have the incredible chance to be involved in coauthoring a paper. However, when I look at my research career, I realize how important my supervisors were in leading me to where I am today. Their willingness to take a chance on a first-year student with no research background and their support in my independent projects have allowed me to succeed. As such, when I had the opportunity to mentor a student, I ensured that I fostered an environment that allowed her to feel empowered and provided her with the space to develop as an independent researcher. For example, I was always willing to teach her translatable skills such as microfabrication and would ask for her input on projects to ensure she was always thinking critically about how to solve design flaws.
Outside of research, these experiences motivated me to work on providing opportunities for others to succeed. For example, I volunteered in a shelter where I tutored youth from low-income families. There I worked to engage and develop a support network for the youth. For instance, I encountered a high school student who was very doubtful of her skills. However, I encouraged her to continue pursuing her interest in science and showed them the types of research undergraduates had done, as well as those of senior level researchers. Over the year I saw her confidence in her skills improve, and she developed the desire to continue her education, eventually going to UofT. Motivated by this experience, I started working as part of the main executive branch with a non-profit, Project Include, where I helped run workshops for 3000+ youth to bring computer science education to low-income areas in Toronto.
To me, being a leader involves constant improvement and learning on one’s own part. Through my experiences at the University of Toronto, I have constantly strived to learn, and have matured both as a person and a leader. As such, I have led and mentored many incredible teams to make lasting contributions to neighbourhoods in the GTA, the undergraduate research community and various UofT organizations. I have also seen team members and lab mates flourish and share the same passions I held when I first entered university. As I continue with life after my undergraduate, I will continue to endeavour to learn, to empower others, and to provide change to the communities around me.