Humans of McMaster: Michael Wong
C/O Mike Wong
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Mike Wong: My name is Mike Wong and I'm an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences.
What inspires you to research what you do?
Personal and interpersonal experiences. I think I'm at a point in my life where I don't want to do things that aren't meaningful to me. I'm fascinated by neuroplasticity. I'm fascinated with research in all the areas I've done in the past but I've gotten to a point where I want to do things that are also meaningful to people on a broader scale. For example, stress-related research. I teach and stress comes up a lot. Feelings of burnout or being overwhelmed is something students really struggle with. I always try to think back to when I was a student and I definitely struggled with that. With this work, eventually, I'd like to use it for recommendations to student wellness centres to find different strategies for students. With the educational practices, I'm interested in getting the word out there to make our classes more inclusive, to make our classes less stressful. What can we do as instructors to improve the student experience? How do we build a community, how do we reduce stress and how do we support students as they go through what is arguably one of the most difficult chapters in their lives? I find that really, really meaningful.
You said in a previous interview that if you didn't pursue science that you might want to go into culinary arts. Has this changed?
I struggled a lot with what I wanted to do as a career in my third and fourth years. I went all over the place. I had a really big interest in ancient Greco-Roman history, I actually wanted to do [graduate school] in ancient history. I thought about politics. I thought about business. I thought about teaching at a high school level. I had a huge list and I made a spreadsheet of all the pros and cons of all the different careers I could see myself in.
Another part of me wanted to leave academia, wanted to leave science. I looked into the real estate world. I looked into culinary arts. I was exploring. My brother always wanted to be a chef but he never did so that trickled in my mind. If I were to ever leave academia, I think I would still consider becoming a chef and going into the culinary world. I love food. I love plating my food. There's just everything about food that I love. It makes me so happy.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share?
I won't frame it as giving advice, I'd frame it just from personal experience. You can plan and plan and plan but sometimes the unexpected happens. When I hear the word success and I hate the word success, I'm always reminded of this diagram where you have the word success and you see a linear arrow. When we look at people and I know I am guilty of that, too, you see someone who seems really put together and you think they're so successful, they're so smart. But I think for most people, that journey isn't linear. There are a lot of these twists and turns. That learning journey is very messy and life is no different. I remember when I was an undergrad, I thought “Oh, I'm going to finish undergrad, I'll do some postgraduate work and I'll get a job and everything is going to be great and dandy.” But that isn't my experience. I've had to face a lot of ups and downs over the years but I've learned to really trust the process. Things will work out in the end. It may not be what you expect, but I think it will work out. It may be tough at times but I'm a true believer that things do work out in the end.
The other thing I've learned is to let the journey take you; let the journey guide you. I think sometimes we get tunnel vision. We think, “This is what I want and I'm going to focus all my experiences on this end goal.” But I think by doing that, we're sometimes depriving ourselves of all the other experiences that could have been. I know uncertainty is scary, but there's almost a beauty to that because rather than funnelling all your experiences to this angle, you're allowing yourself to explore all of these different opportunities that can ultimately lead you to something that may be more meaningful to you.