When Dr. Liqin Chen (PhD’93) arrived in St. John’s in 1990 to complete his PhD in chemistry under the supervision of Dr. Laurence Thompson, he had very little.
Thirty years after he left China for a new life in a new country, Dr. Chen is now head of TLC Pharmaceutical Standards, a multimillion-dollar international pharmaceutical company with customers in 75 countries.
Despite his success, Dr. Chen hasn’t forgotten the help he received along his journey, and is returning the favour through philanthropist efforts.
He established the Chen Graduate Scholarships in Chemistry at Memorial and donated $1.6 million to build the Chen Family Neurosurgery Suite at the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital.
In this Q&A, Memorial’s 2021 Alumnus of the Year shares a heartwarming first impression of St. John’s, why he’s proud to receive such a prestigious award and how you can do anything if you put the work in.
RH: Can you recall a particular experience or person who influenced and inspired your work and/or career trajectory during your time at Memorial?
LC: This is a story I have been telling people for long time. It was around September 1990, the first month that I arrived to St. John’s.
I was riding a bicycle to explore the city on a late Saturday afternoon, and very soon it became dark and I went in a wrong direction and completely lost in a rural area. I was very sure that I could not find the way back on my own.
“I have every reason to be grateful to those people I met early on in my Memorial experience.”
So, I had to follow the lights to find a door to knock for the directions back. An older gentleman opened the door and told me that it was quite far from the place I lived and it would be hard for me to find the way back. After he talked to his wife, he gave me a ride to the place I lived.
I had to leave the bicycle at his home. Next morning, he picked me up, went back to his home to get my bicycle. Unfortunately, I lost contact with this family afterward but I have every reason to be grateful to those people I met early on in my Memorial experience.
RH: What is the most rewarding aspect of the work you do?
LC: It gives me the freedom to do the chemistry in the way a chemist wants. I get to focus more science and less on business.
RH: Can you comment on what it how it feels to receive this award?
LC: It means a lot. I’m so honoured and grateful to be the recipient of this award.
“If you are persistent enough and apply yourself, you can find anything to be rewarding and successful.”
As someone who came to Memorial as a foreign student, it took a lot of hard work to reach this. I believe my experience can be very encouraging to other students too.
RH: Is there anything else you’d like to say about your education and career, words of advice, or anything at all?
LC: I was picked up by the university in China and the chemistry department dating back to 40 years ago – so studying chemistry was not my choice.
With that said, I had been trying my best to learn it as soon as I started.
I think that shows that if you are persistent enough and apply yourself, you can find anything to be rewarding and successful.
The 2021 Alumni Tribute Awards will take place on Oct. 27 at the Emera Innovation Exchange and will be live-streamed.