In their own words: International graduate student autobiographical sketches
Posted February 23, 2015
My interest in animals stems from working on my family’s farms.
When I was growing up in Libya, my grandfather and my father each
had a farm with many sheep and goats. I started helping my
grandfather with his farm when I was about seven or eight years
old. At first I simply fed the animals and took them to pasture. As
I got older, I gained more and more responsibilities. By the time I
was fourteen years old, I was responsible for the care and
well-being of all the animals on my father’s farm.
Because of my love of animals, I decided to pursue veterinary
science. I chose to study animal reproduction, which is an
important area of research in Libya. Much of the veterinary
research there is related to animal reproduction because we don’t
have fancy equipment and machines for many other types of research.
Also, I took courses in animal reproduction in college and greatly
enjoyed this subject.
When I first began my bachelor’s degree in veterinary science,
my future goal was to become a clinician, but as I took more
classes and gained more experience, my interests broadened. I
realized that I was also interested in veterinary research. One of
the reasons I love research is because I can stay up to date on
veterinary science and be at the forefront of new findings and
technology. Ideally, I would love to be able to combine both
interests: clinical science and veterinary research.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I decided to continue
my education. I received a scholarship to attend Washington State
University, where I earned a master’s degree in veterinary science,
specializing in animal reproduction. My research focused on hormone
levels, pregnancy, and lactation in cows.
I’m now beginning my second semester in the doctoral program at
the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biosciences (CVM), and I
am working with Dr. Juan Romano. Even though I’ve been here only a
few months, I’ve been able to jump straight into research and am
working on four different projects, which I find very exciting. One
of my projects focuses on understanding how male goats affect the
estrous cycle in female goats, and another project involves
studying trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease, in
Fortunately, I’ve also been able to collaborate with other
researchers at CVM, including Dr. Jill Hiney. We’re developing a
radioimmunoassay to analyze estradiol, a female sex hormone. A
radioimmunoassay is a highly sensitive technique that uses
antibodies to measure targets of interest, like hormone levels. We
can use this information to better understand reproduction cycles
My future goal is to remain in academia, where I can combine my
interests in research, clinical work, and teaching. Working with
students is extremely rewarding because it challenges me to stay up
to date on scientific research. I also look forward to being
reunited with my wife, who is still living in Washington state. My
wife is originally from that region and is working as a nursing
assistant. Because my move to College Station was rather sudden,
she won’t be able to relocate until next summer.
Even though I’ve only been here for a few months, I feel
fortunate to have had so many opportunities, including multiple
research projects and collaborations. Collaborating with other
researchers has been a tremendous experience for me. These
collaborations enable me to gain knowledge, learn new techniques,
and develop professional contacts for future collaborations. If I
have one piece of advice for other graduate students, it’s to get
to know as many people as possible so that you can build your
professional network and develop future collaborations.
Richard Cheng-An Chang
I’m a second year doctoral student in the College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). My research focuses on
how immune cells interact with fat cells. Immune cells are supposed
to regulate fat cells, but instead, research shows that immune
cells seem to go haywire in that microenvironment, releasing
inflammatory markers, such as cytokines.
Here’s another way to picture this: Immune cells are the good
guys—they’re supposed to go into fat tissue and either destroy the
fat cells or restore them to their natural state. But once in that
environment, the immune cells themselves go crazy. So it’s like
everyone goes crazy and throws a crazy party. That’s why people get
fatter and fatter.
I think the best way to investigate these sorts of problems is
through the intersection of physiology and biology. Physiology
focuses on bodily systems, while biology focuses on interactions
with the environment, including the microenvironments in a cell.
Combining these two disciplines is a powerful way to investigate
how the environment affects the body.
I first became interested in these fields as an undergraduate
student in Taiwan. I earned a bachelor’s degree in biology,
focusing on immunology, at the National Central University in
Taoyuan, Taiwan. I then became interested in physiology and earned
a master’s degree in physiology from National Yang-Ming University,
also in Taiwan.
During this time, I had the opportunity to work with faculty
members who had previously taught at American universities. These
professors encouraged me to come to the United States for my
doctoral degree, telling me that I would really enjoy the learning
environment here. They said that the biggest difference here is the
freedom to express your opinion, even if it conflicts with others.
In many Asian cultures, it’s considered rude to disagree with
others, especially with superiors. This tradition may be fine in
some situations, but not for true science. In science, you should
be able to express your ideas, even if they differ from those of
Working with faculty members in the United States, I enjoyed
more independence in my research projects than I normally would
have had. I designed my own projects and developed my own
proposals. Rather than someone telling me to do A, then B, then C—I
convinced them that I wanted to do A, B, and C. These experiences
helped me become a logical, independent researcher.
After earning my master’s degree, I decided to improve my
English language fluency. I spent one year at the University of
California in Irvine. I then applied and was accepted into the
doctoral program here at CVM.
I’m now working with Dr. Beiyan Zhou and am excited to add
another component to my research project: non-coding RNAs. My
current project links non-coding RNAs to metabolism and immunology.
Specifically, I’m investigating how immune cells use non-coding RNA
to regulate fat cells and the microenvironment.
I’m currently collaborating with students from other labs to
show them techniques for extracting microRNA from outside of the
cell. Extracting these microRNAs can be challenging: microRNAs are
present in small amounts and need to be isolated from other
components. I’ve really enjoyed these collaborations because I get
to refine these techniques to work in cells that I normally don’t
study, such as neurons and embryonic cells.
My lab is also collaborating with Dr. Elizabeth
Cosgriff-Hernandez to explore whether cell-cell interactions could
affect the cell responses we are monitoring. These collaborations
are very helpful because they add a new dimension to our research
project and allow me to extend my professional network.
My future goals are to continue my research in the United States
because I really enjoy the research atmosphere here. I plan to
delve deeper into my current research focus by adding
bioinformatics. My work in RNAs has generated a wealth of data, and
I need computational tools to interpret it. I’m excited to explore
this new field because I think it’s best to continually challenge
myself and not stay in my comfort zone.
Although I am a first year doctoral student in the College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, I’m not new to
veterinary medicine. In 2004, I earned a veterinary degree from the
University of Hanover in Germany.
My interests in animals and medicine began when I was a child.
I’ve always loved animals and had many pets growing up. But more
than that, I loved medicine and disease. I found chronic diseases
fascinating, even as a young child. I remember asking my
grandparents—who were elderly and had health issues—about their
diseases and wanting to know everything. So my family wasn’t
surprised when I became a veterinarian.
After earning my veterinary degree, I worked in small animal
internal medicine through a shared residency between the University
of London in England and the University of Giessen in Germany. I
then worked as a supervisor at the University of Giessen, where I
mentored veterinary students. I found mentoring and teaching
extremely rewarding, especially when I observed students gaining
confidence while conducting research.
In my opinion, a research project needs to be relevant,
achievable, and affordable. By taking these considerations into
account, graduate students can follow their path in their own
However, after working as a supervisor for one year, I realized
that I wanted to conduct my own scientific research. I began work
in a pharmaceutical company, where I conducted clinical field
studies. While I enjoyed the research, I found that I missed the
academic environment—missed meeting people from all over the world.
I also missed teaching. I realized that my future goal is to work
in academia, where I can integrate all my interests: clinical
science, veterinary research, and teaching.
I think an effective teacher can make a huge difference in
students’ lives. For me, the best classrooms are ones that are
interactive, engaging, and fun. I enjoy teaching the most when I
talk less and students talk more.
I then decided to pursue my education in the United States.
Although I enjoy working in Germany, I’ve always wanted to come to
the United States because I enjoy the attitude and atmosphere here.
While attending veterinary conferences in the United States, I was
struck by the apparent lack of hierarchy—there was such a
willingness to discuss research openly and informally. For example,
I’ve witnessed occasions when a speaker will engage the audience by
asking if someone has experience with a medical case. More than
once, someone from the audience responded yes and ran to the front
of the auditorium, waving a USB flash drive, to share his or her
results. This exchange now strikes me as particularly typical for
the United States.
I also think the overall approach to science is somewhat
different in the United States. In other countries, researchers
discuss complex problems critically, which is essential, but they
are less likely to take chances. The approach seems to be more
straightforward in the United States, and researchers are more
willing to take risks. Also, everyone here is friendly and
genuinely wants others to succeed. Of course, science is still
competitive, but in a way that’s helpful and allows
I think that collaboration is essential to scientific research.
No department has all the necessary equipment—nor should it. That
would prevent networking and knowledge exchange. For research to
flourish, we must have interdisciplinary integration of knowledge.
For example, I may know clinical aspects of a project, while
someone else may be an expert in statistics, and another person may
be knowledgeable in nutrition and metabolism. In one lifetime, it’s
not possible to learn everything that’s needed, so it’s important
to collaborate with other people and to share knowledge and
I just began my first year in the Science and Technology
Journalism (STJR) program here in the College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). I am excited to combine
my interests in science and journalism and look forward to
communicating science to a general audience.
Growing up in San Felipe, a small town in the middle of Chile, I
did not have much of an opportunity to be involved in science. I’ve
always loved both science and journalism, but I had to focus on one
or the other back in Chile. In my country, students are not able to
study multiple disciplines but must select one field to pursue. I
took a high school course in journalism and really loved it. We ran
a newspaper and even had a radio show. So it made sense to me to
I earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism at the Pontificia
Universidad Catolica de Chile—the only journalism school outside
the United States to be recognized by the Accrediting Council on
Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. I then interned at
a radio station in Santiago, where I reported on a variety of
topics, including national issues. Then swine flu arrived on the
news scene. My editor realized that our radio station needed a
dedicated health reporter, and I began covering topics in health
and health policy.
That’s when I realized that I missed science and wanted to
become more involved in science communication. I also wanted to be
able to reach a broader audience. I decided to improve my English
language skills and traveled to Toronto, Canada. I lived there for
one year, and took courses at George Brown College for three
I then returned to Chile, where I began work as a radio
producer. I scripted, edited, and storyboarded three radio shows
with distinct but related topics: social media, nutrition and
health, and science and technology. I loved my work but realized
that I needed more education to be a truly effective science
journalist. I had the journalism background but needed more
exposure to science. I then applied for the Fulbright Scholarship
Program so that I could continue my education.
After being accepted into the Fulbright program, I applied to
the STJR program. I chose this program, and this school, partly
because of the individualized attention I received during the
application process—I never felt like just one more student among a
thousand. What I really love about the STJR program is that it is
part of the CVM instead of a journalism school; I’ve never been as
close to science as I am now.
Science journalism is powerful because it can inspire young
people to become scientists. For example, many children in Chile
don’t know what they want to do later in life and don’t have access
to proper education. By giving them even a little glimpse of what
science is, maybe I can inspire them to pursue science as a career.
I can’t inspire them as a teacher, but maybe I can inspire them as
a science journalist.
In the future, I hope to return to Chile and develop a radio
show that communicates science to underserved regions. In Chile,
much of the public education of science occurs in the capital,
Santiago. But people living in regions farther away, including
rural regions, don’t have access to programs that communicate and
explore science. I love science because it can explain so many
practical aspects of our lives, from nutrition and mental health,
to illness and disease. If you know a little bit about science,
then you understand a little more of the world around us.
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