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Biology Student Hopes to Inspire Future Science Students

Friday, November 1, 2013 – Story by Sarah Gilbreath and video by Alex Kreuter

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This article is part of Generation Georgia State, a series that highlights the academic, personal and career accomplishments of Georgia State students, alumni, faculty and staff who are the first in their families to attend college.

“Science research is incredible,” said Ngoc Ly Nguyen, a PhD student in biology at Georgia State University. “If you want to be the first person to venture out and find something new, if you want to be a discoverer, then science research is for you. It’s thrilling.”

But Nguyen didn’t always feel that way. In fact, when she was in high school, she found science classes kind of, well, boring.

“In high school, you’re really not in the lab. It’s mostly book learning.”


It wasn’t until her freshman year as an undergraduate at Georgia State that she finally saw a real science laboratory.

“I saw all the equipment and the materials, and it was amazing,” said Nguyen. “For someone who’s never been in a lab before, it was like magic.”

Research had never been a part of her plan before; she had intended to be a doctor. But after the excitement she had felt on that first day, she decided to try something different. She took an assistantship through the honors program, which allowed her to work in the lab part-time. After a year of research, she knew it was what she wanted to do as a career.

Her parents weren’t thrilled with her decision. Vietnamese immigrants who came to America through the International Rescue Committee, neither of her parents had attended college. They had strongly supported her goal of being a doctor, but they couldn’t understand why she would give it up to do research.

“They don’t really understand what I do,” said Nguyen. “All their friends will be talking about what their children are doing, and mine are just like, ‘Well, she works in a lab…’ And then they’ll ask me, ‘When are you going to graduate, again?”

Trying to explain a Ph.D. to her family has been difficult.

“They know what a Bachelor’s degree is, and they kind of know what a Master’s is. But for a Ph.D., all they know is that it’s more school.”

Nguyen opted to work in Dr. Tim Bartness’s lab studying how the brain regulates body fat. So far, her work has been very impressive.

“She’s been a huge part of our success in the lab,” said Dr. Tim Bartness. “She’s a hard worker, she’s dedicated and smart. She even presented at a national conference on work she did in her first semester of graduate school. She’s been wonderful.”

Now, Nguyen hopes to inspire other students to explore science.

“I want to be a good role model,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have strong role models in the college who supported me. I hope that I can do that for other students.”

She also hopes student who, like her, found textbook-based science classes uninteresting will give the lab a try.

“There’s a level of respect you get when you’re a scientist. You’re the only pioneer out there, with a few people from your lab. You’re making the discoveries that will end up in the textbooks.”