Finding a balance, real-world applications and teaching piano — all at U of T for Woodsworth College grad

May 25, 2020 by Michael McKinnon - A&S News

Martin Mak came from Hong Kong — where he’d moved from Toronto as a child — to earn his honours bachelor of science degree with majors in immunology and human biology as a member of Woodsworth College. While here, he received the Goodwin O'Grady Academic Achievement Award for academic excellence and significant improvement in GPA between semesters, snagged a few intramural basketball championships and taught piano lessons to underprivileged children as part of Musical Minds Community Outreach. He won’t be away from U of T for long; he’s returning in September to start an immunology PhD program. 

Congratulations — this must be very exciting. 

Thank you. Yes, It’s very liberating — the whole four years and now I’m finally at the end point. 

What made you choose U of T? 

I really love this city. I actually looked at a lot when I was choosing a university — even in England and the U.S. — but I have a lot of family members here and I really like the environment. U of T is known for its integration with the city and that’s what really sold me.

What was it like studying human biology and immunology and seeing a real-world application of your courses in the pandemic this past year? 

I’ve actually thought of that quite a bit. Often when people study science — or really any subject — we learn a lot of theory and background. But when you can apply it, it really puts into perspective how the things we are learning are actually used.  

For example, immunology is studying the immune system and how it reacts to diseases and infectious agents. Seeing that applied through the current pandemic has been very eye-opening.  

What was your favourite lesson, something you’re going to carry with you throughout your career? 

One thing I absolutely learned is that opportunities only come to you if you’re prepared. You have to go and find the opportunities rather than wait for them to come to you. Opportunities might be just out of your grasp or come by unexpectedly. However, if you act proactively and are ready you may surprise yourself with what you achieve.  

What kept you busy outside the classroom? 

Along with basketball, I was really involved in Musical Minds Community Outreach, an amazing club that provides free music lessons to students five to 13 from underprivileged families. I started as a piano teacher in second year, then became an executive member and was co-director this past year.  

Looking back over the past four years, what would you say to someone arriving at U of T for the first time in September? 

Wow. I would say definitely take time to destress and enjoy yourself but also be disciplined to do the things you need to be doing. The golden point is finding that balance — and each person is different. Someone might prefer a 90 per cent work and 10 per cent play environment. But find that balance and you will definitely reach success while taking care of yourself physically and mentally."

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