Spring graduate grateful for opportunities, support system at Memorial

May 23rd, 2024

Kelly Foss

Coming to Memorial was a leap of faith for Ellis Lakhani.

Ellis Lakhani is leaning on a window sill. There is a gold sash in the upper left hand corner that says "special feature" in white in it.
Ellis Lakhani is graduating this spring with a master’s degree in public health.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public health in South Africa in 2019, she was preparing to move to Canada for her master’s degree when the pandemic put an end to those plans.

With limited options, she moved back in with her parents in East Africa and began tutoring local children who were unable to attend school.

“I sat with those little kids for a few hours every day and taught them,” she said. “That really helped me keep sane during COVID.”

Life’s twists and turns

As restrictions began to lift, Ms. Lakhani was accepted to a university in Portugal, but delays in obtaining her visa caused the offer to fall through.

That’s when her father, who had been researching international public health master’s programs, discovered Memorial University.

“I applied for the Master of Public Health Degree Program in the Faculty of Medicine, but I was rejected due to a lack of work experience,” she said. “However, I was accepted for the faculty’s Diploma in Community Health Program.”

Ellis Lakhani stands on a rocky headland with the ocean and a fog shrouded community behind her.
Ellis Lakhani enjoying some of Newfoundland’s atmosphere.

Ms. Lakhani decided to take the chance and moved to St. John’s in August 2021.

During orientation, she spoke with a professor, Dr. Yanqing Yi, about the possibility of transferring to a master’s program.

Dr. Yi asked for her CV and promised to pass her name along to colleagues looking for students.

“In the meantime, I was really enjoying my program,” she said. “I met classmates who became some of my closest friends.”

That November she was surprised to receive an email from Dr. Rachel Prowse, an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics.

“I feel Memorial is the reason why I am where I am in life.”— Ellis Lakhani

She had completely forgotten about passing along her CV, but Ms. Lakhani was more than happy to set up a meeting.

“I was very interested in working with her. Although I didn’t have any experience in nutrition, I was willing to learn.”

Dr. Prowse first decided to take her on as a research assistant and when they worked well together, agreed to take her on as a graduate student.

Ellis Lakhani takes a selfie while wearing headphones on a sunny day on Signal Hill
On Signal Hill

“We worked on many projects, including one that resulted in a paper we just published,” said Ms. Lakhani. “My master’s project was connected to a pan-Canadian chronic disease prevention survey, led out of Alberta. We focused on healthy eating policies for chronic disease prevention in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

She recently took a position as a research assistant at the University of Alberta, continuing her work on the chronic disease prevention survey.

“I feel Memorial is the reason why I am where I am in life,” said Ms. Lakhani. “If I went to a bigger university, I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities. Everyone knows everyone. You make friends and contacts and people can see the work you put in.

“I worked hard, but I also had an amazing support system at Memorial,” she continued. “Life is about taking chances, because if you don’t, you’ll never know. The only way to know is to do it.”