All Rhodes lead to success: Liliane Chamas  

By Dawn Wiseman

Liliane Chamas is preparing for life at Oxford as one of 11 Canadian Rhodes Scholars. Magnifying glass

Liliane Chamas is preparing for life at Oxford as one of 11 Canadian Rhodes Scholars.

Liliane Chamas (Biology) would like someone to pinch her. The undergraduate still can’t quite believe how her life changed on Nov. 22, the day she found out she would be one of 11 Canadian Rhodes Scholars attending Oxford University next year.

The Rhodes scholarships were established in 1902 through a bequest from Cecil Rhodes. His goal in bringing together an international group of promising young minds was to aid in the promotion of international understanding and peace.

Chamas is an excellent choice in this regard. Born at the end of the Soviet-era in Belarus, she spent her formative years in Lebanon, moving briefly to Paris at 17, before settling in Montreal with her parents four years ago. She underlined that this recognition is as much about their sacrifice as her own hard work.

“My parents gave up everything to bring us here and provide a more stable life for me and my brother.”

Upon getting the good news, Chamas’ first call was to their DDO home. “My mom thought something was wrong because I was crying, then I managed to say ‘I got it’ and she was crying too.”

Since then it’s been a whirlwind; interviews with CBC, CTV, television, radio, print. The best advice has come from former scholarship winners,
“Several sent me emails telling me in these first few weeks all I’ll be thinking is ‘Why me?’ ‘Is this real?’ and ‘How am I going to handle all of this media attention?’”

For the record, she’s doing fine, and it is clearly real, but how about that question of “why me?”

Prepare to feel inadequate.

Chamas is an honours student in cellular molecular biology, with a minor in multidisciplinary studies in science. She credits her participation in the Science College for nurturing her interest in research and really pushing her intellectual boundaries.

“It’s like a family where everyone really takes an interest in you, and guides you to what you do best.”

Science College Principal Michael Von Grunau was one of the first to encourage Chamas to apply for the Rhodes last summer. Just prior to her interview he told her, “just be yourself. You've got it all. You are smart, beautiful, engaged, charming, and full of life."

College students are expected to undertake three research projects. Her NSERC undergraduate summer research internship work in Jim Pfaus’ (Psychology) sexual behaviour lab led to an independent project in Mexico, where she focused on sexual reward and its application to reproductive success and (as a bonus) solidified her fifth language – Spanish.

Chamas is completing her honours research on obesity and diabetes at Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) – an undergraduate surrounded by graduate students, post-docs and professional researchers. She had chosen the subject in preparation for entry to medical school next fall. “I’ve always wanted to be a physician. The human body amazes and excites me. Each time I look at a cell it’s like discovering an entire little universe in there.”

She smiled as she admitted, “those plans are now on hold for the next three years.”

Chamas is excited that the Rhodes will still allow her to follow her passion, combining theory and practice to obtain a PhD in clinical medicine with a focus on diabetes in the developing world.

If you’re still not feeling inadequate, consider that Chamas has achieved everything while working 20-25 hours a week at downtown eatery Reubens, working as a TA 5-10 hours a week at Concordia, and volunteering up to three hours a week at the Montreal General Hospital’s dialysis clinic.

As President Judith Woodsworth said, “Liliane exemplifies the spirit of Concordia, and we are extremely proud of her success. Since arriving at our university, she has combined a deep passion for learning with a concern for the betterment of society. She is an inspiration to all Concordians.”

Chamas sees it a bit differently; Concordia – and Concordians – have inspired her. “All these people around me got me involved, they pushed me, they shaped me. I am tremendously grateful.”

Listen to an interview with Liliane Chamas on Radio-Canada International’s Tam-Tam Canada program:


Concordia University