An Interview with Farhad Udwadia, Budding Bioethicist & Mentorship Advocate

Our March Leader in the Spotlight features Farhad Udwadia, a BA Economics graduate from McGill University, and a current Master of Bioethics student at Harvard Medical School. Farhad is a co-founder and executive director of AdviseMe!, a mentorship program at McGill, serves as a community organizer for the Neurofibromatosis Society of Ontario, volunteers for SocialSport, and has played rugby at a national level.  In our interview, Farhad shares his insights on applying for graduate studies in the US, differences between undergraduate and graduate school, and lessons learned from playing rugby.

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1. During your undergrad at McGill, you majored in economics, and now you are pursuing a Master of Bioethics at Harvard. What sparked your decision to pursue bioethics?

I really enjoyed studying Economics at McGill, and the more I delved into it, the more I began to figure out what specifically I was interested in studying. Health and developmental economics stood out to me as the most interesting and relevant at the time. I started working on various research projects, and although I didn’t realize it then, the projects I chose were fundamentally rooted in ethical dilemmas. From navigating issues such as unjust resource allocation to barriers in healthcare access, I realized that it was these fundamentally moral problems that I found the most engaging. As a result of working in many different healthcare settings at the time, I had begun to strongly consider medicine as a career as well. It took a lot of self-reflection, but a Masters degree in Bioethics seemed to be the perfect convergence point between my varying interests.

2. Tell us about the process of applying to your Master of Bioethics degree. What advice would you provide to students interested in graduate studies in the US? 

Harvard does a great job of making the application process as comprehensible as possible. It was easy to navigate. I had to write a personal statement and send in my C.V., along with three letters of recommendation and my transcripts. Sending in your MCAT/GRE scores were optional.

After my acceptance, I applied for a study visa. I would strongly encourage students to pursue graduate studies in a different country, as I find living in different places to be enriching. Like many others, I was initially concerned about paying tuition. However, I was fortunate enough to receive funding from a community and academic scholarship.

3. What differences have you noticed between undergraduate and graduate studies?

There have been huge differences with regards to my undergraduate and graduate studies. The first difference I noticed is with the level of engagement I have had with my professors. The professors in my graduate program are very involved with the work we do. Whether it be in class, research or in our general careers, I’ve noticed a readiness to mentor us and help shape our work.

The second difference is the greater academic freedom we possess as graduate students. We can  hone in on our interests, study and work with material that we’re captivated by. Additionally, classes are smaller and more interactive, which facilitates great discussion and learning. Not only do these differences improve your understanding of the material, but it gives you the room to explore and develop your own interests. Developing your own perspective is important as it equips you with the tools to make your own unique contributions to the field.

4. What differences have you noticed between studying in Canada and the US?

The biggest difference I have noticed between studying in Canada and the US is with regard to the access of resources. As a student at the Center for Bioethics, I have access to resources from over a dozen of Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospitals and affiliated institutions. This incredible wealth of resources is a hallmark of being a student in Boston, which is home to some of the most cutting-edge research centers and hospitals in the entire world. In turn, these institutions attract leading experts in almost every imaginable discipline. We have the opportunity to attend conferences, consortiums and talks given by world renowned academic figures on a regular basis. It’s hard not to be inspired while being a student in Boston!

However, one thing I do miss about studying in Canada is the immense diversity that was present within the student and faculty body. In Montréal, I had the pleasure to learn from and alongside people from an incredible range of backgrounds, which is something I valued greatly.

5. You are the co-founder and executive director of AdviseMe. What drove you to co-found this organization?

When I was a freshman at McGill, I found it quite difficult to navigate academic life and figure out how to make the most of my university experience. Whether it be choosing courses, finding research/job opportunities or other extra-curricular activities to partake in, it was difficult to get relevant advice from relevant people. Sure, we had a career center and academic advisors, but I found most of the information I received from these streams to be non-personalized and non-specific. The most valuable advice I got was from my older friends or rugby teammates who had been exactly where I was just a few years ago.

One of my friends, Adam Mohamed, felt similarly about his experience as a freshman and sophomore student. Therefore, in our senior year, we decided to to start a volunteer service together that would work to address this gap. We recruited a small team and formed “AdviseMe!”, which is a mentorship service aimed specifically at helping freshmen students at McGill. We worked together to recruit a team of over 40 senior and graduate mentors, from different faculties and majors. We then match freshmen students seeking advice to these mentors, who volunteer their time to assist them. We’ve received really positive feedback from our freshmen students, and once we have refined our matching model, we plan on expanding this service to other universities across Canada.

6. You have played rugby at the national level in India, at McGill, and have coached a Montreal wheelchair rugby team as well. What have you learned from these endeavours?

Rugby is all about teamwork. On the rugby field, it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you look like, everyone is expected to put in an equal amount of effort and sacrifice. There is no room for inflated egos or selfish play on a competitive rugby team. Humility and grit are fundamental to being a successful rugby player on a winning team. These are probably the most outstanding traits that the sport inculcates in its players.

Playing rugby in different cities and settings also teaches you how to work with and support people who might have very different lives from you off the field. These qualities translate off the field as well, which is probably one of the reasons why rugby is such a community-centric sport. For me, this has been the greatest benefit, as the sport has provided me with lifelong friendships and rugby families in places around the world.

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Farhad is happy to answer your questions about pursuing graduate studies, founding organizations, and more through our free National Young Leader mentorship program. Connect with him here.

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