Motivated by Research Opportunities

March 23, 2019

Bao Ying Chen ’14, biomedical physics graduate student at UCLA, was drawn to Grinnell by its commitment to diversity, the financial resources offered to students, and the flexibility of its individually advised curriculum. “Without Grinnell’s help, I do not think I would have been able to pursue a higher education degree,” says Chen, a first-generation college student.

Inspired by the Chemistry of French Fries

Chen did not settle on the biological chemistry major until her second year, when a particular organic chemistry lecture sparked her interest. “I remember sitting in my Organic Chemistry II class learning about the chemical mechanism of how eating French fries could lead to cancer,” she says. “I think from then on, I had an idea that maybe biological chemistry would be the right major for me.”

Once she decided on biological chemistry, Chen took advantage of Grinnell’s research opportunities to complete a Mentored Advanced Project with Elaine Marzluff, Breid-McFarland Professor of Science. “I really enjoyed working with her and learning from her. In fact, that experience motivated me to continue doing research in graduate school,” says Chen.

Preparing for a Career that Matters

Before applying to graduate school, though, Chen wanted to understand what it would be like to teach full time. “I was inspired by my professors at Grinnell and their dedication to making science engaging and interesting to students from all backgrounds.”

So, Chen joined Teach for America and spent two years teaching high school science in Hawaii. “I felt a lot of excitement for social justice and education reform and wanted to find some way to take part in those two things at once,” she says. “This experience taught me what educational reform looks like from the policy level down to the classroom level.”

Valuable Skills for Graduate School

Now in her third year of graduate school, Chen appreciates how Grinnell’s biological chemistry curriculum helped to equip her with the tools needed for professional research. “There’s always a technical threshold that needs to be overcome when doing research,” says Chen. “The experience of conducting the types of experiments that I did in biological chemistry class and learning about the techniques in the lecture classes really helped to expedite that process.”

After finishing her studies at UCLA, Chen hopes to go on to a career in research. “I hope that one day I can head my own research lab and make meaningful contributions to science,” she says.

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