A 'full circle' moment: Fourth year Lynda Li wins prestigious Thomas Clarkson Award

Lynda Li, a fourth-year kinesiology student at UBC, received the Thomas Clarkson Award at the 2022 Global Undergraduate Award summit in Dublin, Ireland.

The Global Undergraduate Awards celebrates excellence in undergraduate research. Over 2,800 applications were submitted in 2022 from across the globe from a wide variety of disciplines. Li was selected as 1 of 25 Global Winners.

Li’s research drew on her concern around the depictions of older Asian adults in local media during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through video chats with her grandparents living in China, she became aware of a “double pandemic,” of both the virus as well as racism that “threatens to outlast COVID-19.”

“I became concerned that [with] this COVID[-19] related messaging. We're reinforcing these negative stereotypes of older adults as weak, burdensome and less valuable,” Li said.

“I sought to combine my interests in studying both racism and ageism during COVID[-19],” Li continued. “By focusing on the population of older Asian adults … I thought that their experiences of discrimination might be unique due to their intersectional identities as as older adults and as Asians.”

Li was born in China, but moved to Burnaby with her family when she was four years old. The challenges her family faced, such as language barriers when trying to navigate the health care system, instilled a passion for health equity.

“I entered my degree of kinesiology at UBC not knowing how exactly I would approach these large-scale systemic problems in healthcare, but knowing and trusting that my education would provide a good foundation from which I could begin to tackle these issues,” Li said.

In her second year, Li took a course with Dr. Laura Hurd, whose research focuses on aging, gender and health, sparking her interest in the social determinants of health. Li later approached Hurd to ask if she would be interested in supervising Li in a directed studies course.

These courses provide opportunities for students to explore a self-directed research topic of their choosing, and are available in many departments and faculties.

Li admitted that she was nervous to first reach out to a professor, but encouraged other undergraduate students to not “be afraid to put yourself out there.”

“Whether it's running a club or approaching a professor during office hours or reaching out to someone you look up to, don't be afraid to take these opportunities that really align with what you're passionate about,” Li said.

In the future, Li hopes to combine her passion for research, with the opportunity to practice as a clinician in the field.

Outside of her research, Li is a co-founder of the organization Volentia Healthcare Translation, which provides translation services for immigrants and others with lower English proficiency.

“Communication is something that fosters empathy and empathy allows for patient centered care and that contributes to health outcomes,” Li said.

Volentia will soon be receiving grants from partners and expanding its reach. One of these partners, Li said, is an organization that helped her own parents when they arrived in Canada many years ago.

“It feels like [a] full circle,” she said.

This article was updated at 5:56 p.m. on November 25. A previous version misspelled Dr. Laura Hurd's last name as Herd. The Ubyssey regrets this error.