When Dr. Benjamin Chin-Yee visited the University of Cambridge in the U.K. as an undergraduate student, he discovered his passion for the history and philosophy of science, setting him on a path to earn his master’s degree in the discipline, along with his MD. This fall, Chin-Yee’s academic journey will come full circle when he returns to the site where his interest was sparked as a Gates Cambridge scholar.
Chin-Yee, a hematology resident in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and a post-doctoral fellow at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, is pursuing his PhD in history and philosophy of science as one of 79 new Gates Cambridge scholars from 30 countries, including just two other Canadians.
“I am really excited to return to Cambridge where my interest in the subject began and to embark on this process, and for the opportunity to develop a strong professional grounding in academic philosophy,” Chin-Yee said.
The Gates Cambridge scholarship program was established through a $210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, with a mission to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others. The scholarships cover the full cost of studying at Cambridge, plus additional discretionary funding. Since the first class in 2001, Gates Cambridge has awarded 2,081 scholarships to scholars from 111 countries who represent more than 600 universities globally, and more than 80 academic departments and all 31 colleges at Cambridge.
As a member of Cambridge’s King’s College, Chin-Yee will advance research he started at Western, where he was awarded an AMS Fellowship in Compassion and Artificial Intelligence. The award supported his work exploring the impact of new genomic AI technology on the patient-physician relationship. The fellowship also investigated potential, implicit biases associated with the use of genomics and AI among the oncology patient population at London Health Sciences Centre.
As a Gates Cambridge scholar, Chin-Yee will be thinking more broadly about the questions surrounding the impact of novel technologies in medicine and the challenges they present.
“AI and big data technologies are impacting all aspects of medicine and all of society,” he said. “I think there are a lot of really important conceptual and ethical issues that emerge from how these are going to be employed in my world of hematology and oncology.”
Part of the focus of Chin-Yee’s PhD will explore the movement toward “precision oncology,” an emerging paradigm of new technologies that some believe may revolutionize how cancer patients are treated through targeted, tailored therapies.
“The idea has gained a lot of momentum and rightfully so,” he said. “There’s excitement and interest in this area, but I also want the opportunity to engage more critically and think about some of the challenges that may arise from this and what’s needed to ensure this translates into ethical and equitable care.”
Chin-Yee looks forward to engaging with the interdisciplinary community at Cambridge, a privilege he felt fortunate to experience at The Rotman Institute.
“The amazing scholarship that comes out of the institute and the interdisciplinary nature of the work there are really unique, and exploring real developments in medicine and science was especially great.
“My day job is clinical work and that consumes a lot of my time and energy. It’s important to have a community outside of the clinical world to help contextualize and to keep you engaged in some of the academic debates through seminars, talks and academic reading groups, and informal chats. These things have all been important in helping me to keep thinking philosophically. I think one of the great things for me in being here at Western is having that opportunity.”
Chin-Yee said it was also nice to be back in his hometown of London, Ont., where he will continue to spend his time before completing his training in June and heading to the U.K. with his wife this fall.
Drawing on his dual background in medicine and philosophy, Chin-Yee said he is honoured to continue his research as a Gates Cambridge scholar, and for the opportunity to make a broader, lasting impact.
“Developments (in AI) are happening at a rapid pace, and it is very difficult for clinicians, let alone patients, to keep up. Often excitement can take over. I see philosophy adding value here, as a systematic way to have sober critical thought around conceptual and practical challenges. It can help us sort out what technologies and developments are going to help improve patient care, which is ultimately the goal.”