Faces of U of T Medicine: Victor Adarquah
Victor Adarquah is a a first year PhD student at U of T’s Institute of Medical Science. Aside from working on his PhD research, he also runs an Instagram page called The Wall of Excellence, which shines a spotlight on stories of Black excellence in academia and beyond. He spoke to writer Julia Soudat about what drives his research, why he wanted to become a scientist and why The Wall of Excellence is such an important initiative.
Did you always want to be a scientist?
Did I always know? Yes and no. Yes, because I always loved science and the process of scientific discovery. What really hammered things in stone for me and my journey to becoming a scientist was a research opportunity I had in undergrad. It was amazing to be surrounded by experts and graduate students who were like-minded in terms of wanting to look at the real world and clinical applications of benchside research. Coming into undergrad, I was actually a little bit apprehensive about research because my goal was to become a clinician. However, as my undergrad flew by, I started having more questions about niche things within biology which pushed me onto the research track.
What does your research focus on, and why is this an area of interest for you?
My research focuses on the immune-metabolic aspects of burn injury in elderly patients. This area really fascinates me because I experienced burn injury as a child. To be able to pay it forward using my love of science and innovation really sat well with me, especially with something that I relate to so much.
Why did you choose to specifically focus on elderly patients?
Old age is a really sensitive time. By being able to help elderly patients in some capacity, I feel as though I’m helping them maintain their own abilities, independence and quality of life.
What impact do you hope your research will have?
I hope that ultimately, irrespective of whether my research hypotheses are proven true or not, that the research can be translated back into the clinic and really improve the outcomes of elderly patients dealing with some of the comorbidities associated with very severe burn injury.
What or who helped you get to where you are?
Living at home with my parents has been paramount to my success because they’ve been and continue to be my rock – providing a shoulder to lean on whenever I need it. They always encourage me to stay motivated and willing to learn. My friends have been super supportive in everything I do and go as far as to regularly check in with me, which I appreciate immensely. Honestly, without this support system, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Where I am is due to my mentors being willing to help me anytime, and my friends and family being there to make me laugh and feel loved.
You started an Instagram account called Wall of Excellence. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Recently, as I am sure everyone is aware of, things have been very heavy due to the circumstances surrounding the murder of George Floyd and countless others. I'd like to consider myself a positive and optimistic person and because of that, I was looking for a way to make use of my platform to keep things relevant and positive at the same time. That’s why I started The Wall of Excellence. On the “Wall,” we do daily features of young Black people coming from all walks of life and these features highlight their story, because each person has a different journey.
The idea is to demonstrate that it’s equally important to acknowledge what’s going on in the world and the work that needs to be done, and celebrate the achievements of the Black community. I’m working to create a safe space where we can normalize recognizing Black excellence. On the Wall of Excellence, there is always space to highlight Black Excellence.
What have been some of the highlights of running this page?
From running this page, I’ve learned that a lot of people gravitate towards positivity, so I’ll continue accentuating the positives. I received a message from an individual I featured and she told me that since following my account, her feed has been filled with daily reminders that “Black” and “excellence” aren’t mutually exclusive terms, as we’re often told. That message really gave me more fuel than what’s already in the tank to keep this going.
What advice would you give to Black students and youth who want to pursue science?
I would strongly recommend asking a lot of questions, reaching out and forming relationships with people who can serve as mentors. From my experience, seeing someone who looks like you can help you better actualize the potential that's there. The most important piece of advice I can give is to remind Black students and youth that sometimes the journey less traveled isn't a bad thing.
What do you like to do outside of academia?
I enjoy playing soccer and reading. Because of COVID-19, I’ve been home a lot, so I discovered a passion for cooking. It really allows me to experiment with my creativity in the kitchen and try bold choices.
Best food experiment so far?
Homemade pizza! I did my best to make some pizza dough and that ended up turning out much better than I expected. As for the ingredients, I went with a mix of green, red and yellow peppers, cheese and flaked chicken. The end result was better than I could’ve imagined and there’s definitely going to be more of this in my future!