Top 40 Under 40

Part Three

By Deb Cummings, Office of Advancement, with files and photos from Avenue magazine

On Oct. 28, some 48 honorees (27 of whom have UCalgary connections) accepted their Top 40 Under 40 awards before a virtual crowd of co-workers, families and fans, but just before that many of them took time to share their university memories with us. This generation of movers and shakers are doctors, artists, researchers, entrepreneurs and innovative non-profit and civic leaders who still find time to give back and volunteer in their communities. 

In Part Three, you’ll meet: Katie Green, BFA’14; Dr. Tyler Williamson, BSc’05, PhD’11; Dr. Rachel Grimminck, MD’10; Dr. Antoine Dufour, PhD; Dr. Jean-Yin Tan, DVM; and Dr. Eden McCaffery, MSW’06. 

Katie Green

Self-employed visual artist

Artist Katie Green, BFA’14, who is most noted for her murals around town — such as those found under the bridges in the East Village and at the entrance to UCalgary’s Art department — links her art directly to the access she had to a biology lab while studying fine arts at UCalgary. “I was able to get into a biology lab three times a week, where I could draw still lifes from the different specimens that were there,” she explains.

Why did you decide to pursue art and why at UCalgary? When I first started studying, I was actually in Kinesiology. I thought I wanted to do naturopathic medicine or physiotherapy — that was, until I got signed up for a mandatory lab of floor hockey and wrestling in my second semester! That’s when I knew I had to make a switch and I never really questioned it again — I remember feeling so invigorated and purposeful. 

Where did you hang out on campus? I spent most of my time in my studio. The Art department it sort of like its own island . . . floating on the sixth floor of a parkade. It felt like this safe little bubble. I loved how small the department was . . . everyone was familiar with one another and it was always somewhere I could land.

Favourite classes? I loved anatomical drawing. I never actually studied painting in my undergrad, but focused more on drawing-based courses — like etching. There was something about the anatomical studies where I felt like my imagination would just fly.

Did you ever have any aha! moments while studying? I had this very memorable moment where my anatomical drawing professor set up an opportunity for me to partner with the lab technician in the Biology department, so I could draw specimens. I remember showing up to the lab and following instructions on a note to go pick some jars from the back room — they were amazing to see. I spent the next three months in this lab, creating my own specimen still lifes. I feel like this was the seed to my interest in creating these surreal-like visuals and narratives that combine humans with the natural world.

Any embarrassing moments? To be honest, I felt like every single crit was an embarrassing moment! I am so thankful for the type of resiliency those moments have created for me. 

What is the most satisfying thing about your job today? That I can actually list “papier-mâché” as a part of my job description.

Katie Green

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Tyler Williamson

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Tyler Williamson

Associate professor of biostatistics and director, Health Data Science and Biostatistics Program, UCalgary

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tyler Williamson, BSc’05, PhD’11, was called upon to work closely with Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s office to help inform City leaders about what is happening within Calgary, helping shape provincial and municipal policy. Prior to COVID-19, Dr. Williamson was key in developing the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN), which gives primary-care researchers and providers across Canada electronic access to health data.

In this wildly busy time, how did you manage to create Pandemic Solutions, your own consulting company? Pandemic Solutions was just a natural extension of the work I was already doing on COVID-19 tracking and monitoring. It brings expertise and evidence to companies who are trying to keep their workforce safe, but still maintain operations. 

Favourite classes? The courses I took in grad school were my favourite; they were so directly applicable and engaging. I teach some of those courses now and do my best to live up to the high bar set by those that taught me.

Where did you hang out on campus? At the Institute Building across the street. I studied there a lot, but I also was schooled in ping-pong, foosball and Rook. Sometimes at the expense of my grades. 

Any lectures or professors who were extraordinary? I took Models for Health Outcomes with Dr. Gordon Fick [PhD] as a young grad student. It was perhaps my favourite course. Dr. Fick demanded a lot from us, but it forced me to learn a lot and mastering that material still pays dividends in my job today.

Any advice for students or new grads? Don’t be afraid to take a path that is different than the one you were planning or expecting. I owe my career to these paths. You never know what opportunity those paths may present. 

What do you wish you knew more about? So many things. Most days, I wish I knew more about medicine and computer programming. Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about infectious diseases. 

What is the most annoying question that people ask you? “Tyler, you’re a statistician, what is the probability of this happening…?"

Dr. Rachel Grimminck

Clinical medical director for Psychiatric Emergency Services, Foothills Medical Centre; clinical assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary 

As the clinical medical director for Psychiatric Emergency Services at the Foothills Medical Centre, Dr. Rachel Grimminck, MD’10, says mental illness robs patients and their families of so much. Despite this grim reality, she loves her job, “because I get to walk with people through one of the most vulnerable, confusing and overwhelming times in their lives and be a part of their recovery journey.”

Why did you decide to leave engineering to become a doctor? There is more overlap between engineering and medicine than you’d think. Both are focused on problem-solving and finding practical, safe solutions. But I didn’t seriously consider it until had my appendix out during my undergraduate degree in Edmonton. It was a confusing and, at times, frightening experience, in part because of the lack of communication on behalf of the surgical team. Being a patient also made medicine much less intimidating and I decided to apply.  

How has COVID-19 impacted your day-to-day work? The one part that is significantly different is that I’ve started to run group therapy online, which has been surprisingly rewarding and effective.  

What have you missed most during the pandemic? Human connection in all its forms, including dancing and live music. I miss seeing the whole face of my patients and colleagues.  I also miss hugs!

Did you ever have any aha! moments while studying at UCalgary? I didn’t really know what psychiatrists did, but I had planned to go through the motions, shadow psychiatry once and never have anything to do with it again. So I spent an evening with psychiatry resident in the Foothills emergency department and I was so surprised to find it absolutely fascinating. I really haven’t looked back since.

Besides work, we understand you’re a big cyclist? My dream is to own an e-bike, but right now I still have the commuter bike that I had in med school. I suppose I cycle 40 to 45 kilometres a week. 

If you were to go back to school, what would you take? I would do an arts degree. I love ideas, literature and history.   

What are you watching or reading these days? Highway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmid, and I also love Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us.

Any guilty pleasures? I love dark chocolate with espresso chunks. I have a large stash in my office.

Dr. Rachel Grimminck

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Antoine Dufour

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Antoine Dufour

Assistant professor, departments of Physiology & Pharmacology and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary

Pinpointing the markers of inflammatory diseases in order to precisely identify the right course of action for each patient is “super-exciting,” for Dr. Antoine Dufour, PhD, who spent three years playing junior hockey in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and B.C. before deciding to study chemistry.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date? Still having fun like my first day of graduate school.

What makes you most proud? The ability to be the first person finding new things out about questions in our field.

Who are your biggest heroes? The physicist, [Dr.] Richard Feynman.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you? Is COVID-19 real or not?

What are you watching these days? Mr. Robot, a TV show.

What are you reading these days? Leonard Cohen and Félix Leclerc poetry books.

A guilty pleasure? Drinking old wines from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Dr. Jean-Yin Tan

Senior instructor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, UCalgary

In the area of equine veterinary medicine, Asians represent somewhere in the area of 0.4 per cent of practitioners. But this did not discourage Dr. Jean-Yin Tan, DVM, from her dream of becoming an equine veterinarian. Today, she mentors veterinary students at the university while running an outreach program that provides free medical care for horses in need.

Why don’t we see more Asian students in vet med schools? The veterinary profession is the whitest profession in America. The lack of representation in veterinary medicine and resulting biases and career obstacles form significant barriers to mentorship and for people of colour to even perceive veterinary medicine as a possible career path. Sadly, the high debt:income ratio in the veterinary profession is also a barrier for people who see they can earn much more financial reward with less rigorous competition and [fewer] years of education in other professions. 

What is it about horses that you love? I love the connection between horse and human and how we can partner with such large animals to bring a smile to a disabled child’s face, to harness their power to plow a field, or to inspire others with their sheer grace and athleticism. As a veterinarian, I love the paradox of them being large and robust in some ways, yet so fragile from a medicine standpoint.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? Working in internal medicine is like solving complicated puzzles. It’s deeply rewarding to me when the team (myself as the consultant and the referring vet) solves one of these complicated puzzles and sends a horse home with a happy client! 

Any embarrassing moments as a student? As an intern, I was once dragged around what we called the circus tent (an outdoor portable barn where we kept an overflow of patients) by a “sick” donkey.

If you were to go back to school, what would you take? Business and law, which seem antithetical to veterinary medicine, but complement practice and practice ownership well! 

Biggest heroes? My parents for all the sacrifices they made to give their family the lifelong gift of education.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you? How do you work with such big animals? My answer is always that the 1,000-lb. horse doesn’t care whether you’re 100 lb. or 200 lb.

Dr. Jean-Yin Tan

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Eden McCaffrey

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Eden McCaffrey

Project director,; program facilitator, Alberta Health Services; therapist and owner, Ascend Services

Not many of us stick to career plans that are verbalized at the age of 11, except if you’re alumna Dr. Eden McCaffrey, MSW’06, DME, who lost her eight-year-old brother James, when she was just a child, herself. “I knew then that I wanted to help kids,” says the educator and clinical therapist whose innovative CanREACH program has helped children with mental-health concerns get treatment faster.

What is one thing that we could all do to better understand the mental health issues facing our youth?
We need to remove the dichotomies that perpetuate stigma and consider “health” to include both emotional and physical wellness. We recognize, accept and acknowledge physical health, and we owe it to our next generations to do the same for mental health. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? The people I get to work with, ranging from colleagues to clients, are amazing. I am so honoured that people invite me to come into their lives, to walk alongside them during some of the most difficult and intimate moments. I think I have the most rewarding job ... I get to bear witness to growth and change in people’s personal lives, as well as larger systems through projects and programming. 

Any embarrassing moments as a student? I am sure anyone who has attended school with me has their own “Eden stories,” as I seem to always do something ridiculous and/or embarrassing. Getting electrocuted while on a first date on the campus grounds was a good one — especially since it was the first and last date and we still had an entire semester together! Oh, and in week one, I couldn't find a classroom, so I arrived late and only caught the last bit of class where the prof reminded us to bring our sheets to the next class. I was mortified the following week when I showed up with my fresh-washed and neatly folded bed linens, only to realize there was a form (hence the “sheets”) he had given out at the start of the first class that I missed!  

Any advice for students or new grads? Trust the process and know you will find your way. You don’t have to have all the answers for your life path and the “quarter-life crisis” is real! My time at the U of C most  certainly laid the foundation, but my path has taken so many shapes and directions that I never anticipated. 

We’ve been told you’re a competitive Scrabble player — what has been your highest score? My husband and I score our yearly wins, year over year, and I am not sure my highest score ever. I love words that combine lesser-used letters — “maximize,” “equalize,” — where I can use those letters again on a future turn, i.e.: “qi,” “qat.”. Getting two words at once by adding an S to a word and building a full new word like “squeeze” is another favourite … and strategic placement on multipliers never hurts!

What is the most annoying question that people ask you? Are you psychoanalyzing me right now?

A guilty pleasure? I have many! Bed (I love being cozy and warm), reality television, podcasts (especially true crime), wine and nachos, to name a few. 

When you’re not working or playing Scrabble, what else do you like to do? I do love a good board game. But, if I am not doing that, I am likely outside in the garden, reading a book or enjoying a glass of wine. Spending quality time with my family and friends, particularly over food, brings me great joy.

Meet more of the Top 40 Under 40