Common Law Section student Michelle Charlotte Liu wins Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship

Faculty of Law - Common Law Section
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Faculty of Law - Common Law Section

By Common Law

Communication, Faculty of Law

Michelle Liu, Professors Martin-Perez and McGill
Michelle Liu (centre) with her co-supervisors, Dr. Beatriz Martin-Perez (left) of the Faculty of Engineering and Prof. Jena McGill (right) of the Faculty of Law. Photo by Jakie Laflamme, Faculty of Engineering
Michelle Liu (she/her), president of the uOttawa Common Law Student Society (AÉCLSS), has received the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

The Government of Canada launched the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships (Vanier CGS) program in 2008 to strengthen Canada's ability to attract and retain world-class doctoral students and establish Canada as a global centre of excellence in research and higher learning. This scholarship program is designed to support world-class students pursuing doctoral degrees at Canadian institutions. Vanier Scholars demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, and/or health-related fields. 

Liu is pursuing a PhD in Engineering, as well as a JD degree in the Common Law Section.

Her doctoral project focuses on the opportunities and challenges inherent with improving equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) considerations within engineering standards and professional norms. Michelle is a member of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society, and her work is jointly supervised by Dr. Beatriz Martin-Perez at the Faculty of Engineering and Professor Jena McGill at the Faculty of Law.  

Unsure about whether an interdisciplinary, EDI-themed project examining engineering standards and professional norms belonged in the Faculty of Engineering, Liu did not know where her work would take place. Professors Martin-Perez and McGill saw great value in the research concept and encouraged Liu to pursue it.  

“From this, I learned the importance of finding supervisors who are willing to be champions and advocates of your project and who believe in you when others might not,” Liu said, reiterating the power of mentorship that she spoke about in another recent article about her work. 

Liu is the only applicant in Canada to receive both the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholarship and the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, two of the most significant doctoral awards in Canada, in the 2021-2022 application cycle.  

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholarship is a three-year leadership program designed to train engaged leaders, equipping outstanding doctoral candidates with the skills to translate their ideas into action for the betterment of their communities, Canada, and the world.


“Receiving both the Vanier and Trudeau awards validates my work to make change in the engineering profession and other STEM disciplines. More importantly, the recognition of my work stands to empower and validate future projects of a similar nature in engineering, just as the recognition of me as a Queer, racialized, and woman-identifying scholar in engineering hopefully empowers more equity-seeking persons to come to and stay in the engineering profession,” Liu said.  

“My co-supervisors [...] were instrumental to this milestone. Both Dr. Martin-Perez and Prof. McGill are champions of my interdisciplinary research work, attentive reviewers and referees, exceptional mentors, and role models in their research and teaching accomplishments. The recognition that comes with these awards is as much theirs as it is mine.  

Outside of her engineering PhD, Liu carried out three research and writing-intensive projects this past summer, while holding various volunteer leadership roles, speaking at conferences, and more. Working closely with former McCarthy Tétrault LLP Chief Inclusion Officer, Nikki Gershbain, Liu assisted with the development of EDI policy templates for law firms. She also collaborated with Andrea Lee, partner at the construction law firm Glaholt Bowles LLP, to develop a continuing professional development program on improving EDI considerations in the construction industry. Liu also carried out a qualitative research project, under the supervision of Professor Constance Backhouse and with support from the Feminist Public Interest Fellowship, titled “Equity-seeking engineers: Exploring the history of exclusion in a profession with a statutory public interest mandate.”

Liu worked at Blake, Cassels & Graydon in the summer after 1L and will be returning to the firm for her articles in 2023.

Receiving both the Vanier and Trudeau awards has reinforced Liu’s commitment to raise awareness about the EDI implications in all aspects of engineering. Through her dedicated work Liu hopes to inspire future generations of researchers to consider the impact of engineering work on society.

The Common Law Section congratulates Michelle Liu on this achievement and wishes her continued success as she completes her doctoral and JD degrees.