Meet today’s valedictorian Tarushika Vasanthan

"The strength that others see in me is in part a result of the McMaster experience – McMaster has truly liberated me into the best version of myself: an individual that is self-assured and unafraid of the unknown."


Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What would you say to your first year you? Meet Tarushika Vasanthan, valedictorian at the November 17 Convocation for the Faculties of Engineering and Science.

1. Name: Tarushika Vasanthan – although almost everyone who knows me at Mac knows me as Taru.

2. Hometown: I grew up in Toronto most of my life (Flemingdon, Don Mills & Eglinton) but have since moved further East to Ajax and now Oshawa.

3. Degree/Major: I did my Bachelor’s in Biology (2007-2011), my Master’s in Medical Sciences (2011-2013) and I just finished my PhD in Biology Specializing in Astrobiology (2013-2017) – all from McMaster, of course.

4. What made you choose McMaster for your higher education career? 
As a senior in high school, I knew that selecting the right university would be a life changing experience and it was a decision that I did not take lightly. After having attended numerous information sessions on the different universities in Ontario, McMaster stood apart from the rest and was a clear choice for me – one of the easiest and most rewarding decisions I have made in my entire life. To me, McMaster is more than just a university in the traditional sense – it is a community. The inspiring professors, the eager students, the helpful staff, the enriched learning, the cutting-edge research and the friendly faces you can always count on are what makes McMaster home away from home and the reason why I pursued my higher education here. McMaster is truly a mosaic of the finest individuals coming together and striving for the same goal: inspiring future leaders and innovators. I take pride in being branded as a McMaster student and now an alumnus.

5. What will you be doing after graduation or see yourself doing? 
I see myself applying the skills and knowledge that I have acquired over the years either in the education sector or in the research field and if I’m lucky I will be able to pursue a profession that amalgamates the two fields.

6. What would you say or advice to your first year self? 
To my first year self I would say do not doubt your capabilities. Every hurdle that comes your way is a lesson waiting to be learned and you will be better for it. Be authentic, be unapologetic, continue to be kind and above all just be you – no other version suits you better.

7. How has McMaster shaped the person you are today? 
My parents would always tell me that as a young child I was very inquisitive, curious and outspoken. During my adolescent years however I was more reserved but that all changed once I began university. McMaster gave me a platform where I was able to express myself. I was presented with opportunities where I could excel and grow as an individual and it’s these opportunities that have allowed me to transition from a follower to a leader. Those who know me now would describe me as someone who is resilient and confident. The strength that others see in me is in part a result of the McMaster experience – McMaster has truly liberated me into the best version of myself: an individual that is self-assured and unafraid of the unknown.

8. What events did you enjoy the most at McMaster/Hamilton city?
There have been many events that I have enjoyed during my time here at McMaster. For instance, dressing up for Charity Ball was always exciting and the event itself was nothing short of spectacular. I have also made great memories at every event that the Phoenix has hosted (i.e. Trivia Night, Karaoke, Holly Frolic etc.). The Phoenix has constantly been the go-to place for my friends and I when we want to just de-stress from the research world or catch up with old friends andI imagine it will continue to be a haven for all graduate students at McMaster.

9. If you could change anything in the past or in your time at McMaster, what would it be?
If I were asked this question several years back I would probably have come up with a long list of things that I would have changed in the past, but not now. Aside from dropping a few courses that I thought I needed (i.e. Organic Chemistry!), I would not change a single thing. Everything that has transpired over the years, I have either learned from it, been inspired by it or has reinforced what I had already known.

10. Who was your support for succeeding in higher education? 
My family has been, and continues to be, my number one support system. They have always given me the freedom to choose what I wanted out of my education and where I wanted to pursue my education – even if it meant moving away from home for the past 10 years. My PhD supervisor, Dr. Jonathon Stone, who was also my 4th year thesis supervisor, has equally played a significant role in my success here at McMaster. There were times where he believed in me more than I believed in myself. He saw my potential long before others did. Together, my family and my supervisor continue to be my pillars of support, encouraging and cheering me on in everything I dabble in – and to be honest, I have dabbled in a lot! Their support is what drives my success.

11. How have you changed over the course of your University life? 
University has certainly matured me and has made me more appreciative of those that I keep in my tight-knit circle. Moving away from home to attend university definitely forced me to grow up faster and I am thankful that I had such a steep learning curve at a young age. On top of learning how to adjust to a new environment, I learned to trust strangers, be open to change and realized quickly to embrace failures as they laid the foundation for growth. I learned how to problem-solve, think on my feet and above all I  learned that I was solely responsible for my actions and the captain of my own ship.

12. How have you grown as a person throughout your time at McMaster?
During my time here at McMaster I have gained valuable knowledge – both inside and outside the classroom – and developed various transferrable skills that I will take with me as I embark on the next journey in my career. As a person I have become more confident in my abilities, decision-making skills and talents. I am also more cognizant of what my limitations and strengths as an individual and in a collaborative team environment.

13. What do you envision yourself doing five years from now? 
Professionally, I hope that five years from now I find myself in a career where I continue to grow as an individual all the while making a difference in the world – regardless of how big or small. As I neared the end of my PhD I was being constantly told by my peers and faculty members to take some time to ‘smell the roses’ and I intend to do that! Five years from now I hope to have travelled quite a bit, experiencing new cultures and cuisines.

14. What is your definition of success? 
I think the way I measure success constantly changes and along with it so does my definition of what I think success means to me. In general, success is often governed by where we are in our lives and what factors we place importance on. But regardless of where we are in terms of achieving our milestones or what aspects we consider being essential, success, in my opinion, should really be defined as striving to be the best you can be as long as it is never at the cost your happiness. A successful individual is a happy individual and vice-versa.

15. How would your life be different if you didn’t go to McMaster? 
After finishing my first year at McMaster, I was beginning to feel homesick so I seriously contemplated on transferring to a university closer to home. I am very grateful that I had this conversation with my mother, who convinced me otherwise. So many aspects of my life would have been different if I had sought an education outside of McMaster. While it may be cliché to say, I think my identity at any other institution would have really boiled down to just my student number. At McMaster I had my own identity and the sense of belonging to a community. I have experienced unique opportunities, made many fond memories, met individuals from different walks of life and made lifelong relationships that I will take with me beyond these campus quarters. McMaster is very much a part of my identity and I can’t imagine a scenario without it.

Learn more about Fall 2017 convocations here: https://registrar.mcmaster.ca/grad/convo-dates/

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