Conversations with McCall MacBain Scholars: Raymond Tu

In the Reporter's ongoing series of Q&As, members of the inaugural cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars reflect upon a ground-breaking year
“The scholarship program has provided me with the infrastructure and resources to think about problems I otherwise wouldn’t have had the capacity to do on my own,” says Raymond Tu. “I am eternally grateful for the people I’ve had the privilege of meeting, and the wisdoms they’ve imparted onto me.”

This past fall, the first cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars arrived at McGill to begin their fully funded master’s or professional degrees.

 Launched in February 2019, by a landmark $200-million gift from John and Marcy McCall MacBain, the McCall MacBain Scholarship provides mentorship, coaching, and a leadership curriculum, while covering tuition and fees, as well as providing a living stipend of $2,000 per month.

Each member of that first cohort was chosen based on their character, community engagement, leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, academic strength, and intellectual curiosity. They are a diverse group, representing a wide range of interests and experience, ambitions and motivations.

With the 2021-2022 academic year drawing to a close, we caught up with members of that trail-blazing cohort of Scholars and asked them to reflect upon their ground-breaking experience.

As part of our Conversations with McCall MacBain Scholars series, we spoke with Raymond Tu who is studying pharmacology, with a focus on environmental health sciences, at McGill.

Originally from Guelph, Tu graduated from UNC Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar. Driven to pursue health equity, he worked on hurricane relief initiatives and conducted research on environmental health and infection prevention in low-resource settings around the world. He also spent a formative summer working with clinicians on HIV treatment and counselling in his parents’ former home country of Vietnam.

Tu was involved with UNC Chapel Hill’s centre for social justice for three years, including as co-president, and also contributed to a neighbourhood’s oral history project. He volunteered there as a part-time teaching assistant in the chemistry department.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Guelph, Ontario

What is your field of interest and when did you start developing your interest in it?

My field of research is environmental health, the intersection of the “things” (heavy metals, pollutants, pathogens, etc.) in our environment and how they affect our health.

While I’ve always known that I wanted to be a physician and work to improve the health and wellbeing of others, my interest in the environment started in North Carolina, where the term “environmental racism” was first coined. Learning that many of these injustices and harms were preventable, I sought to learn more about and pursue the work of public health, under the supervision of many mentors along the way.

Did you have any mentors along the way?

One of my mentors, Dr. Janice Lee, helped me see and understand the challenges of regulating toxicants in our environment, especially under the current framework of balancing the interests of private enterprises and the general public.

What was your reaction when you found out you had been selected as a McCall MacBain Scholar?

I usually try to manage my expectations so that I don’t ever get too hopeful about opportunities like this one… So naturally, when I found out I had been selected to be a part of the first cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars, I was shocked, but very, very thrilled at the thought of living in Montreal and having the opportunity to make friends with such an extraordinary group of people.

What has been your favourite part of becoming a McCall MacBain Scholar?

My favourite part of becoming a McCall MacBain scholar is the opportunity to form deep relationships with people who have had such different experiences from me, and as a result, who have such different perspectives and values. I feel like I’ve known some of these folks for years, and it’s really only been a few months!

What is the leadership development program like? What was your favourite session or learning moment?

Some of my most memorable learning moments have been when we placed ourselves on a “value line,” from strongly disagreeing to strongly agreeing with any given sentence. The first time we did this activity, I assumed that we would all generally have similar opinions, but I was pleasantly surprised by the range of opinions that I heard, and the various lines of reasoning people used to justify their positions. It’s been a great joy to see the intricacies in how each of us makes sense of the world we live in and the wicked problems that today’s leaders are facing.

Who is your mentor and what are they like? What are you hoping to get out of the mentoring relationship and other connections made through the scholarship program?

My mentor is Dr. Joanne Liu, a pediatric emergency physician and former international president of Médecins sans frontières (MSF). Her fierce, firm beliefs in humanitarian aid have been a great source of inspiration. Her involvement with and leadership in MSF has provided me with a model of a physician who not only cares for the patients in their immediate catchment population, but also for the most vulnerable families and communities halfway around the world.

Already, this mentoring relationship has provided me more clarity with how I can best heal people, especially folks who have been most underserved and marginalized by our current health systems, given my unique interests and experiences. I’m hoping that the connections I will make and have already forged, will provide more insights on how I can merge my hopes of advocating for health equity and providing compassionate care.

Tell us about the professional coaching you receive. What do you do with your coach?

My coach is Miranda Ayim, a three-time Olympian and incredible Canadian basketball player. To me, she’s been something of a lighthouse, helping me navigate the waters of life, school, and work. During our coaching sessions, I bring a short list of dilemmas I’m facing and ideas I’m exploring, and Miranda provides me the time and space to reflect on and think through how to approach each topic.

Overall, how would you describe your experience in the scholarship program so far?

The scholarship program has provided me with the infrastructure and resources to think about problems I otherwise wouldn’t have had the capacity to do on my own. I am eternally grateful for the people I’ve had the privilege of meeting, and the wisdoms they’ve imparted onto me. I feel more confident in my ability to work alongside, serve, and learn from others.

What kinds of people do you think should apply for this program? What would you say to those prospective applicants?

If you want to make a positive change in your community, whether you define that as your town, your country, or the planet you’re living on, and you want to meet and learn from others who are on a similar (but, importantly, different!) journey, this program is for you. Many of us did not think we would be selected to be a part of this program, but we believed in ourselves and our work enough to write the application and put ourselves out there, so you should do the same.

What are your future plans?

I will be attending the Schulich School of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. I plan on specializing in public health and preventive medicine or medical oncology, but I’m open to having my life flipped upside down at every step of the way, just as this scholarship program has done already.

Learn more about the McCall MacBain Scholarships program