At laboratory setting at an early age which influenced

At most universities, newly accepted undergraduate students do not need to choose their major until after
they have gained a better understanding of their interests. However, at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), students choose their intended major prior to applying, a decision that will
shape the rest of their lives. Fortunately for me, with parents who researched immunology at Yale, I
developed a fascination with biology and grew accustomed to the laboratory setting at an early age which
influenced my decision in choosing bioengineering at UIUC. Entering college, I had my reservations, but
each doubt was slowly dispelled throughout my college career.
At UIUC, almost every bioengineer walks down one of three paths after graduation: industry, medical
school, or graduate school. In the summer following freshman year, I interned at the Shanghai branch of
the global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and joined its compound management team. I assisted
the team in fulfilling orders for testing the effects of the specified compound on treating cancer cells. Here,
I witnessed, learned, and performed relevant biological assays such as cell culture and western blot.
Initially, every day was a learning experience with the added satisfaction of feeling that I was contributing
to the company. I quickly realized that intellectual freedom was almost non-existent as the tasks
performed were designated by the company and for the company. This industry was missing what I loved
about bioengineering: the scientific process. I had walked into AstraZeneca with a curiosity of the industry
option and left with a newly fueled desire to follow the research path of bioengineering.
To take the first step, I interned at Dr. Haifan Lin’s lab at the Yale Stem Cell Center in New Haven in the
following year. I was mentored by fifth-year grad student Meng Zhang who was researching the
mechanisms underlying the post-transcriptional regulator Pumilio proteins in mental development. I
learned many useful techniques such as RNA immunoprecipitation and creating viral vectors. During my
time here, I was stunned by the willingness of the busy researchers to go out of their way to help me and
each other. This reaffirmed my desire to pursue research and become knowledgeable enough to help and
guide my future lab mates. Even though the hours were long and the work was demanding, I still found
myself looking forward to coming in every day and feeling extremely lucky to be working with such a
group of talented and generous scientists. Because of this, I hope to eventually start my own lab and create
such an intellectual space that promotes community.
In terms of bioengineering, I had finally found my topic of interest in the form of stem cells. These cells,
which can be engineered into other cells with unending applications, were infinitely fascinating.
Furthermore, it was during this internship that I began to realize the importance of bioinformatics and
computational data analysis. By working closely with my mentor Meng, I witnessed first-hand her
frustration at having to rely and wait on someone else for her own data. Following this internship, my
focus turned towards stem-cell research and bioinformatics, both of which are heavily ingrained in
biomedical engineering.
Following Yale, I exchanged at the University of Melbourne. During my time there, I took a course which
invited different stem cell researchers to teach the class about their applications. For example, Professor
Melissa Little, a leader in renal research from the university, explained stem cells in relation to kidneys
and their roles in disease and repair. With each passing lecture, I became increasingly impressed and
intrigued by how each branch of stem cell research offered a unique set of challenges, perspectives, and
innovations. With bioengineers at the forefront of stem cell research, I became determined to join them.
After my junior year, I researched in Dr. David Owen’s neuroscience lab at the Imperial College of London.
There, my primary task was to test the effectiveness of a drug on decreasing the expression of diseased
microglia in Parkinson’s animal models using immunohistochemistry and stereology. Midway through,
Dr. Paul Matthews, the head of the division of Brain Sciences at Imperial, proposed to me a side project to analyze existing brain single-cell RNA-sequencing data to determine if the translocator protein TSPO
was expressed in more than just microglia. While others unfamiliar with bioinformatics may have passed
on this project, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to gain valuable experiences. With the guidance
of Dr. Prashant Srivastava, a senior scientist in bioinformatics, I learned and understood the methods of
RNA-seq and how to interpret its data. When I could finally take an extensive RNA-seq dataset and
transform it into relevant presentable data, I began to fully appreciate the importance of computational
data analysis and what it offers to research.
During my college career as a bioengineering undergrad, I noticed a symbiotic relationship with my
coursework and research experience. The fundamentals taught in classes such as Molecular and Cellular
Basis of Life helped deepen my understanding of my internship projects. The projects in turn helped
prepare me for later courses that simulated real world situations such as in Cancer Nanotechnology in which
we researched topics and wrote mock R21 grant proposals. With the combined efforts of me and my
capable group, we proposed a method to monitor the recurrence of non-small cell lung cancer using an
micro-electrochemical biosensor that detects circulating nucleic acids. Amongst the class, our proposal
received the highest scores from the faculty reviewers. By challenging these courses, I am able to build a
solid foundation for my future research and studies.
As a leader in biomedical engineering research, Yale houses many remarkable labs such as the Jiangbing
Zhou lab which conducts nanoparticle brain drug delivery and brain cancer stem cell research, the Rong
Fan lab which is more focused on systems biology and single-cell analysis of disease, and the Tarek Fahmy
lab which is involved in nanotechnology and drug delivery research. In addition, there are those who
pushed the boundaries of their field such as the Laura E. Niklason lab which has advanced and
revolutionized vascular tissue engineering. The Yale GSAS provides an ideal environment for developing
and refining my skills and knowledge in bioengineering. By continuing down the long path of research, I
eventually want to establish my own lab to enable even greater intellectual freedom and create a space for
like-minded and talented scientists to promote discussion and cultivation of their own abilities and
research much like my experience interning at Yale.