MCB Spring 2020 Outstanding Senior - Son Tran

Son Tran MCB Outstanding Senior“I think the main reason I won this award is I ask for a lot of help and receive a lot of help!” Son Tran, MCB spring 2020 Outstanding Senior told me during our zoom meeting. “I think asking for help is a really important aspect of life. It can feel like you are burdening the person you ask, but I realized a lot of people like helping and it is satisfying to them. Professors are willing to talk to you if you ask.”

The MCB Department recognizes excellence in undergraduate studies with its annual Outstanding Senior award. In order to be eligible for this award, students must be nominated by a faculty member and then apply for the award. The final selection is made by the MCB awards committee. When I asked Son how he reacted when he learned he was selected as the MCB Outstanding Senior, he told me “I was just so surprised - I was shocked that I was the one picked. I look at my colleagues and they are amazing people! They do research and things for the community. Now that I'm chosen I feel incredibly humble.”  

I was curious what drew Son to science and like many students, he told me of a high school teacher that influenced him. “Before 8th grade, science was all about making a volcano and not explaining why things happened. My 8th grade science teacher went in depth on a topic and she expected her students to be rational and logical. It made me like molecular and cellular biology. I thank her for explaining how things worked - it made the difference; when she talked about cells, she talked about what the parts do. When I think back on it, I'm amazed about how she taught! I really appreciate teachers - it's one of the most difficult jobs but it's crazy what kind of difference it makes to students.”

With that interest in science, and molecular and cellular biology specifically, Son considered where he wanted to go to college and what his major would be. “I knew I wanted to major in something science and I had a vague goal of getting my MD and going into the medical field.” Cost was a factor in considering which college he would attend. “Going out of state to an ivy league school seemed improbable to me. Looking back, I appreciate now that I chose The University of Arizona because it's close to home. I appreciate the science classes and opportunity to do research as an undergraduate here.” When it came to choosing a major, Son didn't have any idea what to choose but he was fascinated with cell biology “I already wanted to learn more about cells and it's such a core component of life. I thought it was the peak of science; it's were all the sciences come together and leads to life.” Son chose MCB and has worked in Dr. Nagy’s lab for two years; “I get to do a lot in Dr. Nagy’s lab. We are trying to piece together how cells talk to each other and how they arrange into segments. It's so complicated and fascinating. It's so incomprehensible in my mind and I love that!”

Son is an honors student and was working on his honors thesis when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the university to go online for coursework. I asked him how that impacted his honors thesis and research. “It's tough because a big part of my honors thesis was lab work. We work with beetles and segmentation. We were in the injection period when we were forced to leave the lab so the lab work is on hiatus and I don’t have the data to finish that part. We switched to computational analysis. I had hoped to get more results from my research.”

In terms of his coursework Son front loaded a lot of courses early in college and was only taking 15 units this semester. “The classes I'm currently taking don't have mandatory zoom meetings. I watch the lectures when I can. I realize how much I like in person lectures because I learn best when there is interaction and I can ask questions real time. I try to ask any questions I can, even if they are dumb questions. I know if I don’t understand the concept in class then I know I won't understand it any better when I look at my notes.” Son misses the in person lecture and being in the lab, but says “I have a lot of free time now, so I'm reapplying to medical schools and looking for jobs. I am doing a lot of looking around for opportunities!”

College is a time to try new things and learn skills that will stay with you for life. When I asked what skills Son learned that he thinks will be most useful when he graduates, Son reiterated what he told me earlier “Asking for help! That will carry on for a long time. When I was a  freshmen I didn't reach out, I didn't go to tutoring or go to office hours. I just thought if I studied my notes hard enough and googled I would do ok. I didn't know what I was lacking so I didn't know how to ask for help. Knowing when to ask help and how to ask for help is important.” He also believes collaboration is a necessary skill. “I don't think it's a zero sum game - with everybody so diverse, collaborating with others is the most important skill in the future!”

 Son plans to attend medical school and is waiting to hear from schools he applied to. “Currently I'm in a bit of limbo. I applied to medical schools and am on wait lists. There is a lot of uncertainty now - even before coronavirus. I’m also thinking about a PhD in cell biology. I want to hear back from medical schools first though.” Son Tran MCB Outstanding Senior

For students in high school considering The University of Arizona and a science major Son had the same advice to give that he felt is part of his success. “It feels daunting with massive amounts of information and difficult material. Know when and how to ask for help; faculty are willing to help! Dr. Adam Daly explained a concept to me 5 weeks in a row in Chem 151! It's really rewarding to consider a science major. A science degree can be used in a lot more careers than MD or PhD. It teaches you critical thinking and analysis and teaches you to evaluate things.”

Son concluded by telling me “The one thing I want to take away from life is it's a learning experience. You can learn ways not to do something as well as learn to do something.” With his persistence, collaboration skills and passion for science, we have no doubts Son will achieve the goals he sets for himself!

Michele Vaughan
Publish Date: 
Apr 27, 2020