The following is not an account of degrees, awards, or extra-curriculars…if that’s the story you’re looking for go ahead and find me on LinkedIn. Instead, I’d like to take this opportunity to share what I hope to be a brief and heart-warming story of social mobility and the generosity of strangers.

As a child, I was an absolute bookworm. Any spare moment would find me with an open book, off in some enchanting world of clever characters and exotic lands. One of my favourite destinations, aside from the bottom of the ocean, was the United Kingdom. I was oddly fascinated with this little island on the other side of the world.  It was through my childhood love of British literature that I first came to hear about Cambridge, perhaps in the reading of Charles Darnay or Lemuel Gulliver… either way I do recall dreaming of what it must be like to read a novel on the bank of the Cam or in a cosy Victorian library.

My reality in rural Canada was much different. I grew up outside a town of 1,000 inhabitants in the north of a sparsely populated prairie province called Saskatchewan, for some context just google Corner Gas – there’s not a lot going on. My dad, having grown up on and off the street, made sure we were kept off it and kept busy. Between school, sports, several part-time jobs, and chores, it’s miraculous I had any time to read at all. Frankly, I found school particularly boring, so I actually did a large portion of my recreational reading during class, or I would just skip class altogether and read from home. Now, don’t misunderstand me here, I wouldn’t change my unique upbringing and the skills and life lessons I accrued for anything. My dreaming of Cambridge was not an escape from my reality, but rather an inspiration for my future. I don’t recall ever having the intention to actually apply to Cambridge, but it was one of the things that inspired me to entertain the idea of leaving my province, and attending university, two things no one in my family had ever done before.

Swim Club – Regan is second from left on the middle row.

My second inspiration, and my first real exposure to the world outside the prairies was an unlikely event. On a warm spring morning (only -15OC) my 9th grade teacher introduced our very first exchange student, a girl from Switzerland. At that point, most of us couldn’t have told you the difference between Sweden and Switzerland and we were a very curious lot, so we bombarded this poor girl with questions. I was particularly inspired by her tales of this teeny tiny country of cheese, chocolate and mountains – it was like something out of one of my novels! I quickly decided that this was the place for me and, having worked as a waitress, cook, cashier, bricklayer, and gardener, my 14-year-old self had saved enough money for a round trip ticket to Geneva. My parents, always eager to supply a life lesson, agreed to co-sign my loan for a semester’s tuition, and the parents of the Swiss exchange student gave me a life lesson of their own by opening their doors to a complete stranger from the other side of the world. Six months later I took my first international flight, alone. When I arrived in Switzerland, I met the people who would ultimately become family. My stay in Switzerland opened my youthful eyes to new ideas and gave me the sense that with hard work and some kindness from others, no idea is impossible.

Regan (right) and her Switzerland exchange partner (2010)

Returning home, I applied this new mindset to my everyday life. I founded and managed a non-profit organization that provided affordable sports during the summer in my local community, I designed and implemented a water-safety program for children living in remote fly-in communities, and I applied to university on the other side of the country. With funding from several charitable organisations, I was able to attend McGill University and study neuroscience (why neuroscience? Honestly, I Googled it, and it sounded fun). During my time at McGill I met the most incredible people and was surrounded by seemingly infinite opportunity. Realising that the knowledge which I now think of as nearly common sense was completely unknown to me just a few short years ago, I truly realise how fortunate I am and how fortunate my peers are to have access to education at this level and to be capable of achieving such growth.

Bumps 2018

Now, thanks once again to the generosity of strangers (this time at the Cambridge Trust and the Rosetrees Trust), here I am today, half-way around the world in my third year at Eddies working towards a PhD in Clinical Neurosciences (investigating the chronic wound state observed in spinal cord injury), and training for the boat race against Oxford (oh, we won by the way 🙂 ). These past few years at Eddies have been incredible; I have made lifelong friends from all over the world, received financial support from the college for both my studies abroad and for rowing, and have enjoyed numerous thought-provoking seminars and socials hosted by the college. I am also happy to say I was able to give back to the College through my involvement in several student-run committees including as the Welfare Officer in 2018-2019.

While I’ve been abroad, I have also been able to watch my family back home, grow and prosper in their own ways. My incredible sister has studied in China and Singapore, and my baby cousin is about to go off to University. These events may or may not have been encouraged by my activities, but have most certainly been supported by charitable organisations, just as I was. These opportunities would have never been available to me and my family without the charity of strangers. In our society today, education provides opportunity, and we mustn’t forget or ignore the fact that it remains inaccessible to many. I, being on the lucky side of this story, will never forget the generosity which enabled my current lifestyle and career. I will use this generosity to pursue a career in academia, untangling the subtleties of neuroinflammation, but also working from within institutes of higher learning to continue making education increasingly accessible, and to hopefully inspire many students and colleagues to pursue their own trajectories and continue to improve the world we live in.