Leader in the Spotlight: Hannah Lee, Humanitarian & Cancer Researcher

Our February 2015 Leader in the Spotlight is Hannah Lee, a fourth year UBC Medical Laboratory Sciences student. Hannah has some incredible international experiences, which include volunteering at a pediatric hospital in Laos after their flood crisis and conducting cancer research in Korea. Closer to home, Hannah has been involved with World Vision UBC and volunteers with the UBC David F. Hardwick Pathology Learning Centre. In our interview below, learn more about Hannah’s experience volunteering abroad at a pediatric hospital, her take on research culture in Korea and Canada, and her opinion on social media and human interaction.

  1. Your profile mentions volunteering at a pediatric hospital in Laos. How did you come across this opportunity? What was your experience in adjusting to an unfamiliar environment and culture? Did your status as a foreigner affect your ability to positively contribute to the local community?

My dad actually worked in Laos for a couple of years during the Lao flood crisis and he came across a hospital that needed volunteers. When I heard about the need for aid, I wanted to join the flood aid program.

The volunteer experience in Laos was wonderful. My biggest concern before I started volunteering was the language barrier since I could not speak their language. However, I managed to make a lot of friends who I still keep in touch with. They taught me how to speak Lao and I also improved my body language during the process.

Another thing that I was not familiar with was their food but I tried to acclimate myself by suggesting the idea of a potluck for every lunch. This definitely helped in learning about each other’s culture. This is a picture of a Lao dish called “kao suai” that I was not initially familiar with but I miss so much now:


As a foreigner, I did get a lot of attention from the patients, nurses and doctors. A lot of the children in the hospital had never seen a foreigner and they would approach me very quietly and poke me. They were very cute.  In fact, a lot of the nurses asked me to be around when they were collecting blood samples from the children. They hoped that I could distract the children from crying. Also, I was asked to give mini lectures to residency doctors on Korean and English. They were all eager to learn and it was a very fun experience.  The resident physicians gave me a Lao name; they named me “Nam warn” which means sugar water. Nam warn is a popular dessert in Laos. So whenever I ate the dessert, people would jokingly ask, “How can Nam warn eat nam warn?”

This is a picture of “Nam warn,” a fantastic Lao dessert:

Nam warn

  1. You shared a quote on your profile, “Don’t do what you love but learn to love what you do”. What does this mean to you?

I used to believe that you have to have a job that you love since it may be a lifelong job. However, now I believe that even if you begin your job with passion and love, things may not always turn out the way you want it to be.  Especially when your job becomes a daily routine, the joy that you once found in your job may dissipate. I would like to keep what I love as an “escape mechanism” so that I could always relieve my stress whenever I need to. Instead of doing what I love for my career, I believe that I should learn to love what I do by being positive and grateful.

  1. You’ve been involved with cancer research in both Korea and Canada. Are there differences in research culture between these two countries?

Surprisingly, the research culture is not much different between the countries. The only difference that I can comment on is really the size of labs. In Korea, I worked at a national institute, in which a single lab consisted of about 50 people and I did a lot of collaborative work with my co-workers.  Here in Canada, I work at a smaller lab of 5 people so we tend to do more independent work.

  1. What do you see yourself doing this time next year?

I believe that I will continue working at the current lab that I am in, at the BC Cancer Research Centre. I will be graduating from UBC this year and I am applying to a clinical genetics program. If I get in, I might be in school again next year. I have always been interested in the genetics field and as I do more and more research, I feel that genetics is the knowledge that will greatly expand our understanding of diseases.

  1. On your profile, you state that you are passionate about life beyond that of life in social media. What do you mean by that? Describe your take on social media and human interaction.

Social media has had a huge impact on how we communicate and interact. Despite its many positive aspects, social media is impacting how people socialize negatively: face-to-face communication is becoming less common and many people do not even know how to have “alone time” any more.

I have to confess that I do use social media often to catch up with my friends or to share important news and information. At the same time though, I miss learning about people by talking to them rather than just scrolling through their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds.


Want to ask Hannah a question? Schedule a chat with her today! Hannah is happy to answer your questions and offer advice on research and insight into medical laboratory science.

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