Gautham Krishnaraj, valedictorian for the Faculty of Health Sciences Convocation, Fall 2017

November 16, 2017

Meet Gautham Krishnaraj, valedictorian for Health Sciences

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What would you say to your first year you? Meet Gautham Krishnaraj, valedictorian at the November 16 Convocation for the Faculty of Health Sciences.

1. Name: Gautham Krishnaraj

2. Hometown: Currently Residing in Mombasa, Kenya

3. Degree/Major: MSc Global Health, Thesis

4. What made you choose McMaster for your higher education career? 
I chose to attend McMaster specifically to pursue thesis studies under Dr. Lisa Schwartz and the Humanitarian Health Ethics Research Group based at McMaster.

5. What will you be doing after graduation or see yourself doing? 
I will be returning to Mombasa, Kenya to complete my remaining five months in the field as part of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Development Management Fellowship Program. I am hoping to continue providing valuable support to the health and education initiatives of the Madrasa Early Childhood Program across East Africa.

6. What would you say or advice to your first year self? 
Given that I completed my MSc in one year, I would tell myself at the start of the program that it is possible. I remember thinking in April 2017, that I had 3 months to study for/write the MCAT, write/defend my thesis, all while travelling to India, Singapore, and Kenya. I was nervous, but ready to put in the work necessary to succeed - and looking back, the effort paid off.

7. How has McMaster shaped the person you are today? 
McMaster has been a place of transition - while my time here was short, it was the place where I consolidated skills, and applied them in new ways. It was also the place where I took learning into my own hands; during my BSc, most of my learning was done in the lecture hall or studying what had been presented. During my MSc, I learned far more in conversation with my supervisors and pouring over articles/textbooks than I did in any class.

8. What events did you enjoy the most at McMaster/Hamilton city?
One of my favourite things to do in Hamilton was explore its cafes and restaurants. Coming from Canada’s gastronomic capital of Montreal, I’ve always loved studying and doing my research from the warmth and bustle of a cafe (shout out to Humble Lion Cafe, Montreal!). Walking from cafe to cafe is a great way to learn the lay of the land; in Hamilton, these walks could take 30-40 minutes through various neighbourhoods. I’ve been caught in more than one snowstorm and got lost more times than I can count, but I’ll still always prefer to see the city from the sidewalk rather than the inside of a bus. Cafe owners and baristas are always excited to tell you about their craft, and I’ve definitely run more than a few thesis ideas by them. Strangers often give the best advice, you just have to ask!

9. If you could change anything in the past or in your time at McMaster, what would it be?
I think that my past university experiences at McGill made me appreciate and capitalize on the opportunities as McMaster just that much more. If I could change one thing about my time at McMaster, I would have engaged with the community a bit sooner; graduate studies can be pretty isolating, and knowing that the program was only a year, I had little motivation to engage outside the school. Eventually I started participating in the Hamilton arts scene, and would have loved to have more time to build those relationships and experiences.

10. Who was your support for succeeding in higher education? 
My mom and dad have always supported me pursuing a higher education, but they have also been the ones to tell me that “if you’re going to be a pizza-maker (my first career ambition), be the best pizza-maker”. When I helped open a restaurant as a sous-chef (dreams do come true), they encouraged me to continue both my education and my culinary interests. Of course, I’d be lost without some incredible friends who both reminded me when we had class, and filled late-night study sessions with laughter and support. Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention the influence of a few incredible mentors; Drs. Lisa Schwartz, Elysee Nouvet, Matthew Hunt, Kirsten Johnson and Anita Parmar have all helped me become who I am both professionally and personally.

11. How have you changed over the course of your University life?
Before I began my undergraduate studies, I attended Lester B Pearson United World College of the Pacific. Living and learning in a unique community of 160 globally-minded, passionate, and unique individuals from around the world, on a forest campus with no cellphone service and a 2:1 deer to human population ratio, is a very different world from downtown Montreal. When I arrived at McGill, I was disoriented to say the least. Over the course of three years at McGill and this past year at McMaster, I have grown in innumerable ways. I have learned that you can chase all of your passions, and that they will connect in ways you never expected. I have evolved from a die-hard quantitative bench-top scientist to a thoroughly interdisciplinary researcher, seeking truth in all its forms, to help those most vulnerable in our societies.

12. How have you grown as a person throughout your time at McMaster?
I think that my time at McMaster has shown me the value of my experiences, and allowed me to connect the dots of my past to some extent. In no small part due to some incredible supervisors and mentors, my mind was opened to the various possibilities of post-academic life, and of the many different ways to continue in academic exploration.

13. What do you envision yourself doing five years from now? 
Ideally, I would like to be pursuing a medical education, and working towards my lifelong dream of becoming a humanitarian field surgeon. However, if I have learned anything from the past five years, it is that what you envision and what you experience can be worlds apart. So I hope that I will be doing something that allows me to learn every day, better myself, and contribute to the communities surrounding me.

14. What is your definition of success? 
I’ve recently grappled with this question and asked a lot of my friends what their own definitions are, which has led to more than a few enlightening conversations. Personally, having been on both sides of the academic spectrum (struggling to keep my grades up, and easily achieving perfect scores) I fail to believe that success is quantified on a transcript. Nor do I believe that success is captured in awards, scholarships, or important-sounding job titles; often, these go simply to those who know to apply. In order to define success, I think of the times I felt successful, and they were all moments of simultaneous exhaustion, triumph, and companionship. My definition of success is having given more than all you had to give, attaining something beyond what you knew to look for, and having people to share the achievement (or moment of achievement) with.

15. How would your life be different if you didn’t go to McMaster? 
I’d have a much narrower sense of academia, success, and ways to create impact in the world.

Gautham's Valedictorian Address will be available online in December.