Core Leader, Student Training
Professor, Department of Medicine at UCSF
Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Peter always knew he wanted to be a doctor. He also knew the meaning of diversity, difference and the value of education. As a child, he spoke the languages of Cantonese, local Creole and even Spanish while picking fresh mangoes and catching fish near rivers and oceans in his native country. From the Caribbean, to New England to San Francisco – his life has encountered many changes from where he grew up, but something constant was the role of family, role models and other mentors.
Peter’s first role model – his father, who was loved and cared for by community members who visited him at his general store – was one of many who influenced his intellectual journey to become a doctor and scientist. The role of family was crucial. “I come from a remote village and were it not for my grandmother’s brother (who was an elementary school principal in the city), I would have stayed in the village schools which would not have prepared me well enough for the later stages of my education,” he said.
Learning about stereotype threat came in college, when he moved from the Caribbean to New England. “People were friendly but had specific ideas about what living in the Caribbean meant,” he said. But, Peter persisted and studied biology, community health and East Asian studies while there. One of his most challenging experiences as a college student was not the academics, but “living with a Texan roommate as a first exposure to living in America and trying to figure out American culture coming from a small island.” Peter found support in college by trying to find people like him. Other Caribbean students and mentors, including college leaders who he met by chance like the Vice Provost and Dean of Foreign Students, were invaluable.
When Peter saw what was happening to the world in the face of the AIDS epidemic, he knew he wanted to be a scientist. His work has long focused on the role of opportunistic infections in HIV/AIDS. Now, his attention has turned to other immunocompromised patients, including transplant recipients and HIV patients who have received transplants. It was team science and the clinical need to understand how to best care for patients that excited him and propelled him toward his current research trajectory.
Working on the SF BUILD project, he reflects about what inspired him about his own mentor and mentee experience: “accessibility, fun, listening, and knowing where I come from,” he says, are important. Further, he says that he has had bad mentors too. But, Peter hopes to pass on the “joys of academic life, community of science, fun and passion in work and a work-life balance.” He hopes that through BUILD we can change the culture in science and improve the health of our community by having a diverse enough group of scientists to ask the questions that are important to them, and by proxy, the communities from which they arise.
When he is not in his lab, in his clinic seeing patients, or meeting with a student, you might find him with his family at the beach – a warm beach. The cold beaches in San Francisco look nice, but he “pines for a warm one.” He also loves running, the outdoors, and wearing flip flops any chance he gets.