BHSc students reflect on their success in national finance competition

BHSc students reflect on their success in national finance competition

Last month, a team of McMaster students won the Federal Minister of Finance’s Post-Secondary Policy Forum, a national competition which sought out prospective public policy proposals from university students. Their proposal, titled ‘Recalibrating Canadian Labour Development For a Precarious Economy’, called for reforms to Employment Insurance and skills (re)training programs to address job churn in the face of technological advancements and automation. 4 of the 5 team members are BHSc (Hons) students, and we’ve asked them to reflect on and share their experience of how health sciences students managed to take the top prize in a finance competition:



Hi there, this is Krish Bilimoria (Global Health), Varun Sethuraman (Global Health), Samuel Wu, and Matthew Yau. We are all third year students in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. We also had the good company of a colleague in Commerce & Political Science- Raj D. Jain. In the spirit of inquiry and personal growth within the BHSc program, we’d like to share with the community our thoughts and lessons learned from our exciting experience of attending Budget 2017.

The eclectic interests and personalities of Health Sciences students often lead emerging groups of students to carve their own  paths, opportunities, and experiences. Nevertheless, you may be wondering how on earth we, 4- 3rd year BHSc students (along with their friend in commerce) managed to win a finance policy competition?  To be honest, we still aren’t too sure… but here are some of our thoughts.

As cliché as this sounds, we submitted our initial proposal on a whim. It was shocking to hear back in late January that our group was one of three finalists selected across Canada, among a pool of undergraduate and graduate teams. Our group shifted gears instantly- spending our early mornings and late nights scurrying over topics in labour economics, the history of Federal finance policy, and evidence-based policy making. We had the opportunity to present our proposal to senior officials in the Department of Finance, as well as the Minister of Children, Families, and Social Development, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos.

While we were all satisfied with ending our journey here, we were surprised to hear that we won the final prize: an all-expenses paid trip to Ottawa for Budget 2017, and the opportunity to meet and greet members of parliament, cabinet ministers, and the Prime Minister.

Hedging our bets on a competition in a subject where few of us possessed significant background experience shaped one of the most transformative moments in our undergraduate careers. The following are some of the lessons we’ve gathered across our journey.


“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”- Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn

We took the project as an opportunity to learn more about the process of finance policy generation, and were delightfully embarrassed by the shape of our first draft. None of us were experts in the field, so we were trading in a fairly uncertain space. Nonetheless, we first prioritized getting our words on paper, getting to approximately 7 pages for our written report within 2-3 days. Let’s be honest- it looked horrible. Splitting up our work among 5 people might have let us rush towards our first draft, but the proposal still needed a lot of fine tuning. We found that the process of problem identification, clarification, and subsequent research developed in first and second year inquiry courses allowed us to navigate through this editing process quite well. We proceeded to fill in gaps in our knowledge as they came along as we continued to write marginally better drafts of our proposal. Over the course of several days, we finished our proposal in a position where we were all comfortable submitting.


“Teamwork makes the dream work.”- John C. Maxwell

 The BHSc Program encourages students to develop an interest in all aspects of the health sciences, with a variety of transferable skills. Our group found a common set of interests in policy development and the social determinants of health, of which employment and income are core components. We made sure to build a team of individuals with unique skills, where we were able to address our collective knowledge gaps. No one knows everything, but everyone knows something. Leveraging this reality allowed our group to engage in a holistic and integrative learning process that yielded an innovative policy solution. Even in settings where you had little content expertise, we found that the content was easily learned with the appropriate skillset. For example, Krish was proficient in reading highly technical research in automation and machine learning, and Varun was able to apply such research to their broad economic implications. Matt was able to contextualize this knowledge well in the Canadian policy landscape, and Samuel was able to masterfully frame this proposal as the ideal path to action.


“Know your worth, then add tax.”

 Similar to the raison d’etre of our mock proposal, the BHSc program’s focus on skills development provided us with an incredibly transferable toolkit for success. Our familiarity with problem-based learning gave us the confidence to explore new fields of academic research. Our process of inquiring, reflecting, evaluating, and constructing our knowledge was critical to developing such confidence. HTH SCI 3GG3 (Health Systems & Health Policy) exposed us to critical political frameworks for exploring policy development. HTH SCI 2E03 (Biochemistry) and HTH SCI 2K03 (Cellular Biology) also gave us the experience to prepare and present complex topics in clear, accessible language. While the coursework may not have directly related to finance policy, we were able to draw upon the skills we developed in each of these courses towards our policy proposal. It is easy to overlook the value of these skills in our program, but we can wholeheartedly state that such skills provided us with the competitive edge to excel in this competition.

 We cannot thank the BHSc program enough for empowering us with the necessary skills and experience to take this opportunity head on. By sharing this experience, we hope that other BHSc students can strive towards their own goals, wherever they may lead.


Krish Bilimoria, Varun Sethuraman, Samuel Wu, Matthew Yau

Thank you for sharing your reflections, team!  It’s a terrific example of how the interdisciplinary, integrated, inquiry-driven approach of the BHSc (Hons) Program is meant to help prepare students to tackle a variety of messy problems in the real world.  Hearty congratulations from all of us in the BHSc (Hons) Program Community on your achievement!