Liliane Chamas Profile
Liliane Chamas (Quebec & St. John’s 2009) is an independent consultant in global health and innovation. She has worked on a range of projects that explore the role of innovation in strengthening healthcare systems, including diabetes prevention and treatment programs for Palestinian refugee camps in the Middle East and mHealth programs for tobacco cessation in Mauritius. Previously, she was a researcher in human genetics, obesity and dyslipidemia at the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism. Liliane holds a DPhil in Human Genetics and Clinical Research from the University of Oxford, and a BSc in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Concordia.
Rhodes Project: How would you describe your time at Oxford as a graduate student? What experiences were significant for you?
Liliane Chamas: Before arriving at Oxford, I didn’t know what to expect. Once here, I found the experience clustered with richness and intensity. As everyone else in my cohort, I think I spent the first year trying to keep up with everything. I met the most wonderful individuals and formed warm friendships. On the academic side, it was a struggle. My DPhil was based in a clinical research institute, which meant that the pace was different due to the crossover with the NHS and clinicians. I had to learn a lot in a very short time. When it finally came to writing up my dissertation, intensity flared up again. You’re faced with piles of work you’ve done over three years and somehow you need to present it in a coherent manner. It all worked out well—although the last bit of my DPhil is a big blur!
Rhodes Project: What initially drew you to the medical sciences as an academic interest and how did you end up in public health as a career path?
Liliane Chamas: I’ve always had a passion for health care with a focus on chronic diseases, and I initially thought the best way for me to contribute was to be a clinician. I picked a DPhil in clinical medicine at Oxford both for the insight it gave of the interface between healthcare and research and because I believe understanding disease at various levels makes you a better clinician. When I completed my DPhil, I realized that I yearned for a broader approach to tackling chronic diseases. I therefore shifted gears and went into policy to address broader challenges in health systems.
Rhodes Project: You are presently an independent public health consultant working with various international organizations including the World Health Organization. Can you tell me about your recent work?
Liliane Chamas: As an independent consultant, I get to work on a variety of projects. Initially, I focused on chronic diseases and now I have expanded and pursue projects on various levels of the health system. The great aspect of being an independent consultant is that you get to pick the puzzle you work on. People come with projects and I get to say, sounds great, I’m going with this one. In the last year, I’ve worked on everything from Palestinian refugee health to health access of indigenous communities in Brazil and Paraguay. At the World Health Organization, I’ve looked at general international policy, but with other clients, I’ve been able to drill down and go into countries and focus on specific challenges.
Rhodes Project: What role has mentorship played in your life, professionally and personally? How have mentors or role models shaped your thinking?
Liliane Chamas: There have been official and unofficial mentors in my life. My mentor in Canada put the Rhodes Scholarship on the map for me and encouraged me to apply. In Oxford, mentors helped me keep it together, expand my horizons and finish my degree. I would definitely not have ventured into public health if it was not for all the interesting conversations I had with the community at Oxford. For instance, I hadn’t really considered using my languages professionally—my head was stuck in the whole genetics and personal medicine space. “Community mentorship” at Oxford made me realize that parts of my personal identity should bleed into my professional choices as well.
Now that I’m out of Oxford, it is a lot more challenging to find mentors. Part of the reason is because people think you have things worked out once you’ve completed your degree and started a job. There aren’t many ongoing mentorship opportunities for women that have shifted academic or professional gears.
Rhodes Project: Growing up, you lived in Belarus, Lebanon, France and Canada. And you speak English, Russian, Arabic, French and Spanish. How has such a multicultural upbringing influenced you?
Liliane Chamas: My father is Lebanese, and my mother is Belarusian. I was born in one place, and then we lived somewhere else, and then immigrated. I think the main theme has been adaptability to change—being able to deal with flux and ambiguity. Those traits have been quite central to a lot of things that I’ve taken on.
Rhodes Project: What do you imagine the next 10 years of your life will look?
Liliane Chamas: I am excited for everything and anything. At Oxford, when I had my termly meetings with the Warden, he would ask for the five-year plan and I would feel so horrible that I didn’t have the answer. Now I’m actually proud and happy that I don’t. This is the way life is, in constant flux with different challenges, and you just have to be adaptable. For now, I want to stay in the health care arena but I’m open to exploring that from different angles and in different geographies.
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