Sept. 23, 2022
Embracing the pivot, scholarship winner shifts from medicine to law
Kate Bartel was going to be a doctor.
She excelled in her sciences courses in high school, went to Queen’s University to pursue an undergrad degree in life sciences, and even wrote the MCAT.
Then the pandemic hit, and life was confined to the walls of her house back in Calgary. Bartel found herself with a lot of time to think. And she started to wonder if she was on the right path.
“I started wondering if medicine was what I actually wanted to do, or if it was just the next step in the funnel because I’m good at science and was drawn to the perceived prestige of the profession,” explains Bartel.
“Plus, my mom is a lawyer, so I’ve had more exposure to the legal profession than the medical profession and had experienced what an interesting and rewarding career law can be,” she adds.
With motives shifting, Bartel took a philosophy of law course in her third year. She loved every aspect of the course — reading the cases, the critical thinking — and confirmed that she was more interested in law than medicine.
She wrote the LSAT the summer of third year, while also volunteering as a research assistant for Dr. Ranita Manocha, MD, at UCalgary’s Better Mobility Lab helping on a systematic review examining secondary injuries resulting from the use of walking aids.
Open house helped make decision
Despite the apparent path to a career in medicine, Bartel applied to four law schools in Ontario and Alberta. She attended UCalgary Law’s Dean’s Open House for Admitted Students in March and liked what she heard.
“The small class sizes, the close-knit classes, the great professors — everyone was friendly and had nothing bad to say about UCalgary Law.
"Even with the open house being online, UCalgary Law felt open and approachable, that it would be a community where I would feel welcomed. That was different than the other law schools I applied to.”
Campus leader winner of law school’s biggest scholarship
Bartel is the 2022 winner of the Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer LLP Entrance Scholarship, a renewable scholarship worth $20,000 for each year of her legal studies.
“I got the notice in early summer that I won the scholarship. I was at work, and I immediately called my mom. She cried, I cried,” she says. “It’s hard to fathom the sheer size and value of the scholarship and how much that means to be able to attend law school without debt, to be able to start a career without that burden.
“It’s validation that I’ll be ok, that coming from a science background, and not having a lifelong dream of being a lawyer, that I will succeed.”
In addition to academic merit, the scholarship is awarded to someone who demonstrates community leadership.
For Bartel, that leadership came as a volunteer with Student Academic Success Services at Queen’s. The program facilitates workshops for students on academic success, a program she used herself in her first year.
“It’s so great to see first-year students leave a workshop slightly less terrified than when they came in, and I remember having that feeling as well.”
Bartel spent this past summer working for Cycle Kingston, as the program manager for Gear Up! Recycled Bikes. Gear Up! is a social enterprise that promotes sustainable transportation by selling affordable used bicycles. The organization also employs several of Kingston’s youth in their first jobs, giving them valuable work experience early on.
“I love the organization and its mission, so I was excited to join the team for the summer. It was my first time in a managerial position, and I enjoyed doing something I wasn’t familiar with while supporting the young employees and seeing their confidence grow over the summer,” Bartel says.
Excited for law school experience
For Bartel, starting at UCalgary Law also marks a return to the city where she was born and raised, with a valuable support network. While she doesn’t know yet what type of law she wants to practise, there’s a common thread throughout her journey.
“If I could do something that uses my science background in some way would be wonderful, but I don’t know what that looks like yet.”
While figuring it out, she’s looking forward to the whole experience.
“I’m excited to get into it and fully immersed,” she says with a huge grin. “Law school will be different from my undergrad, but in a good way, and I can’t wait to start.”