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PhD Abdikarim Abdullahi on “sending the elevator down”

By Michelle Rosen

JUNE 28, 2017

Excerpt from Sunnybrook Research Institute website.
Author: Alisa Kim
Photo: Nation Wong

“If you’re lucky enough to do well, send the elevator down.” So says Abdikarim Abdullahi in describing the motto he tries to live by. A third-year PhD student in the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto, Abdullahi is training in the lab of Sunnybrook Research Institute senior scientist Dr. Marc Jeschke.

He’s usually at Sunnybrook until 11 p.m. on weeknights—“I’m more of a night person,” Abdullahi says—yet he finds time to tutor elementary school kids. On Saturdays, he works at a learning centre in the city’s west end instructing young kids in public speaking and science. Along with others, Abdullahi helped lead a team from the centre to national prominence in the First Lego League, a competition that encourages youth to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). He also mentors black university students pursuing graduate studies in research, where they are strikingly underrepresented. He founded a group where he and his colleagues help students of colour navigate graduate research programs. Offering guidance on matters like choosing a thesis advisory committee and applying for awards, Abdullahi gives the kind of support he wishes he’d had when he began his PhD. “I felt like I was the only one [in the program] who looked like this,” he says, recalling his first week of orientation. “I was kind of intimidated.”

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