During his three years as a University of Saskatchewan physiology and pharmacology student, Liu published research, led science workshops for kids, won an award for his volunteer efforts and ran the occasional half marathon.
This weekend, he will be recognized as the U of S’s most distinguished graduate receiving an undergraduate degree.
“I think the best way that I kept my life balanced between school, work and extracurriculars was that I understood what I enjoyed doing, and I did just that. I never truly felt ‘busy’ because my schedule consisted of things I looked forward to,” said Liu, who is originally from Regina.
Now attending medical school at the University of British Columbia, Liu returns to Saskatoon for Fall Convocation to accept his physiology and pharmacology degree along with the President’s Medal, awarded to the graduating U of S student with the highest overall average. He will also be granted the Three-Year Medal, an award for the College of Arts and Science student with the highest average in a three-year program.
Liu hopes to become a pediatrician in a Canadian children’s hospital: a dream that began when he volunteered in high school at the pediatrics unit of Regina General Hospital.
“I really appreciated interacting directly with patients and family members to bring in a compassionate side to academia and problem solving,” said Liu.
The challenge posed by a career in medicine had something to do with his interest, too. Even as a child, Liu liked to solve problems and put himself to the test. He was Saskatchewan’s provincial chess champion for seven years in elementary and middle school.
When he came to the U of S, Liu carried on with his favorite volunteer activities and found a few new ones. He especially enjoyed hanging out with people with intellectual disabilities through Best Buddies U of S, where he served as co-president and treasurer, and Walk and Talk, a group he founded.
“The most rewarding part for me was being able to make those lifelong friendships with amazing people around the community that I normally would not have a chance to interact with,” said Liu of his time with Best Buddies and Walk and Talk.
Liu’s leadership on a campaign by Best Buddies to end the derogatory use of the word “retarded” earned him the YMCA Peace Medallion in 2016.
Last year, he joined the laboratory of Professor John Howland in the College of Medicine, assisting with research into learning and memory. Results from that work have been published in two scientific papers and presented at two conferences.
“Being able to apply classroom lectures in self-directed experiments and interact with graduate students made learning much more motivating and enjoyable,” said Liu. “Having a mentor that cared about my feelings and expectations like Dr. Howland made the challenging student life easier to navigate.”
Social supports are critical to a positive university experience, Liu believes. He advises other undergraduate students not to seek a “winning formula” for academic success, but to find a balance and a pace they are comfortable with.
“The best advice I can give to fellow undergraduate students is to have fun. It is a very difficult time, but taking care of your physical and mental health first will help make the journey a lot more enjoyable.”