Interview with Alex Kwan about his HYRS experience (2013)

Let’s face it–Schools have been cramming meaningless facts of science for us to take exams on. That eventually has us students losing interest in science when science is very different than learning random facts.

For Grade 10’s to think about and Grade 11’s to get started, I have compiled an interview with Alex Kwan, an aspiring scientist in the biomedical fields and current Student Union president, about HYRS (Heritage Youth Researcher Summer Program). So for those of you who ponder on the thought of applying for HYRS or perhaps never heard of the program, I hope this article will give you insight and help you make a decision if HYRS is right for you.

Could you briefly explain what is HYRS?

HYRS is a six week summer youth research program inside a professional laboratory at one of 3 accredited universities (University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge).  Students participate in cutting edge research that is both innovating and exciting.

Why did you decide to apply to HYRS?

I personally applied because it gave me a sense as to what being in research is like and help me decide my future career aspirations and make some networking with professors and researchers.

Now were there different fields you could go into? Did you get to pick or was it HYRS’s choice?

Part of the application process was that applicants were required to write a 400 word essay talking about which field of health research interests you and why.

 For me, I wrote about biotechnology and how I got really intrigued by it.
 The HYRS adjudication committee members reads them, and try to pair them up as much as possible with the researches involved in the program.
Could you expand on biotechnology and what they had you do specifically?
Well, I talk about how volunteering in St. John Ambulance, I got trained on how to use Automated External Defibrillators. I was mesmerized by the technology that goes behind it and it’s ability to restart the heart and restore it to a normal rhythm.
 Technology in biomedical fields interests me. Hence, I was paired up with Dr, Tsui.

Although he does nothing in regards to cardiology since he is an anesthetist, but he developed electronics and catheters that helped with regional anesthesia in acute pain control for post-op patients.

Now that is very interesting! Would you say, that being paired up with Dr. Tsui was something you enjoyed? What was the overall atmosphere you got from working in that environment along with Dr. Tsui?

Yes, indeed. He was an excellent mentor and that includes his research team.

They were always opened to my own interests and would work around that.

 All in all, it was a great learning experience.

Now I’m here wondering, did you want to be involved in sciences since a young age, or just automatically felt you needed to be in the sciences? In other words, do you believe that people who want to go into sciences should start thinking about it at a youthful age?

I was always interested in sciences. But during early years, I was rather more interested engineering.

However, as I grew older, I started volunteering more and getting more exposure. And I found that health sciences is my thing.

 I believe that people shouldn’t by just thinking, but instead go out to the real world and getting exposure to it.
 If you are passionate about it at a young age, do more research about it or attend camps and conventions.
 It will give them a sense of what it’s like
Very understandable. So one should get involved in their interests so that they may get some sort of experience from it. Ok. Because you were given a chance to join HYRS and received the opportunity to go into more depth of what you love, have you “found” yourself?
I did most certainly. I got to participate in clinical research on the hospital grounds, where I was able to interact with patients and staff.

 I found that probably health sciences and internal medicine is my career aspiration

Shall we enter the world of nostalgia? Was there any kind of routine during your time at HYRS? Any memorable experiences? Heartbreaking ones, or ones that pulled at your heartstrings? Ones that brought you a whole new view on things? 

I was scheduled to be there from 8-4PM.

But it could sometimes vary.

 Sometimes I was at the hospital at 6AM to see a patient in surgery.
 In terms of the HYRS, there were plenty of social gatherings every week.
Were there others students like yourself who worked alongside you?
No, we were each set in our own labs. But after work or during lunches, we would always go to one another’s lab to visit and have lunch or supper together.
For heartbreaking moments, I had the opportunity to witness a different side of healthcare that no one really expected before.  I saw a patient all the way through their stay in the hospital from pre-operation to surgery, to post-operation. It was really different to see how much medicine can change a person’s life and their family’s
 Since you will be going into the sciences dealing with health, do you think that you have the emotional capacity to withstand occurrences such as these? Has that experience wavered your love for the field you wish to go into?
I would say I would have the emotional capacity. Working in the hospital meant accepting the way the natural cycle of how life functions. And from that summer experience, it solidified my career choice as I realize things like life and death is really common. And one must learn to accept such things and not make such a great deal out of it.

It’s great that you can see the way things are. Now, I’ve been pestering you with questions for quite a while now. So the last few will be about what you would like to tell future students who want to experience HYRS? What is a quality that someone should have in order to enjoy their experience at HYRS?

It’s totally worth it! I strongly encourage anyone with great passions in health sciences to apply as this will further enrich their knowledge in such fields. I think qualities would be to be very enthusiastic about science and research.

Would they need to work hard and get those marks up for applying HYRS? I’ve heard you need a average of around 85% and above to get in for subjects such as biology, another science, and math. What about students who love the idea of joining HYRS but just can’t seem to bring their marks up to apply? The ones who feel they have no chance of applying? Should they try anyway?

Academics are important, but their passion and extra curricular activities also reflect that. So if they are truly passionate, please don’t hesitate.

Alright last two questions. If you had the chance, would you work with HYRS in the future? Would you inspire future generations as Dr. Tsui and his research team did?

I would as a matter of fact, I was invited back to continue with my research I did this summer throughout the school year. At the moment, I do not plan to work with HYRS in the future. I would like to further my exposure first in life. However, I would serve as a mentor for younger students’ that were just like me whom are passionate and excited by science.

Any last comments about HYRS before I close this interview?

If I got the opportunity to do this each summer, I wouldn’t mind doing it. But, I can’t. So I recommend anyone who likes science to try and apply. They won’t regret it!

Ok thank you Alex for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. I really appreciate it.

Thank you for the interview opportunity.

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