My Duyen Tran - MCB Undergrad Research Scholarship Winner

My Duyen Tran University of Arizona MCB Student“The timing of this award is very good!” exclaimed My Duyen Tran during a zoom call when I talked to her about winning the 2020 MCB Undergraduate $1000 scholarship.  This scholarship was made possible by the generous donation of an anonymous donor for a first generation college student. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many lives and My Duyen and her family are no exception – her parents work in a nail salon in Surprise AZ which was shut down due to the pandemic.  “I want to apply to medical school and I didn't realize how expensive it is! The MCAT alone is $300. Applications to medical school are expensive. I'm trying to save money but it's hard now when things are so uncertain and I appreciate any help.”

Throughout our conversation about My Duyen’s love of science and her University of Arizona experience, it was apparent how resilient, adaptable, introspective and pragmatic My Duyen is. We talked about why she chose the University of Arizona and a big reason was pragmatic - scholarships. “You start out doing something, and you are in your head about it, and often things don't work out as planned. I've come to realize that's the reality of life.  It's a pattern for me that goes back to applying for college. I thought I would go out of state and it seemed realistic. Then it came to ‘college is college’, and Harvard is expensive!”

 I wanted to know more about why she chose MCB as a major and where her love of science stemmed from. “When I was a kid, I watched shows like Dinosaur Train about paleontology. This is my first memory of loving science. Then I watched more shows. I liked Bill Nye the Science Guy because he made science easy to understand. It felt like magic!”

My Duyen’s love of science only grew from there. “It solidified in middle school when we dissected a sheep's heart in 6th grade; that was so cool! It was so so amazing how everything fit in together like it was meant to be. Then I started to learn about evolution and biology. I would never have imagined little tiny proteins can have such a big impact on your body and health. It's incredible, scary and amazing.” She told me she loves space and all types of science. She is fascinated with the way all the fields of science play off each other and how they all fit together; “They really aren't separate fields. It's all the same universe!”

My Duyen loved space so much she wanted to be an astronaut, but she changed her mind. “My main reason for going from looking at the stars to becoming a doctor was I found out astronauts lose bone density the longer they are in space- I didn't want that!” Becoming a doctor was not on her radar in high school. “Becoming a doctor wasn't one of things I expected. We immigrated from Vietnam in 2008 when I was 8 years old and I had to adapt; I learned English pretty quickly and my brother and I were the translators for my parents who didn’t speak English.” My Duyen was the one who made doctor appointments for her parents and went to appointments with them. My Duyen had always loved sports and when she was in 8th grade and wanted to play organized sports, she learned that she had to have a physical to continue to play on organized teams. “I wanted to play sports, soccer and basketball, and I needed a physical. My parents weren't going to make the appointment for me so I did it. I hated calling the doctor! I didn't know what to say or what the process was.” She was young and didn’t know the medical terms, but she forged ahead so she could play sports and help her parents with their doctor’s appointments. “I didn't know the medical terms and how to translate for my parents.” My Duyen and her brother found a Vietnamese doctor but it wasn’t a good experience. “The thing was my mom trusted him so much. When I’m a doctor I don't want my patients to have a bad experience. I know the trust that people have for their doctor, and I want to be someone people can trust. It could be life or death whether you trust your doctor!”

Once she arrived at the university, My Duyen needed to pick a major but she was uncertain about what major to choose. “I liked science and knew I was premed, so I chose MCB. I took MCB 181 (Intro Biology) with Dr. Ted. He's such a good professor, I can tell he loves his job and he enjoys his job. He made it so comfortable to ask questions and I asked a lot of questions! He reached out to me at the end of 181 and suggested I do research. I had read science journals and thought those scientists were so smart and thought no way I could do that. When I talked to Dr. Ted he made me feel I COULD do it.” That got her interested in research and she was accepted into UBRP the summer after her freshmen year. Once she got accepted, My Duyen Tran University of Arizona MCB Student in Zarnescu Labshe says “I found out I had to go find my own lab to work in! Dr. Zarnescu’s lab seemed like a good fit and I heard she was very supportive and that was really important to me. I was looking for someone to give me advice and mentor me while I did the lab work. I don’t have a lot of people to ask about these things; my parents didn't go to college. I realize now being able to choose which lab I was going to work in was a great thing.”  My Duyen stayed in Dr. Zarnescu’s lab after UBRP ended last summer and worked in the lab all year. I asked her how the university shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted her research. “I worked on a project with a senior in Dr. Zarnescu’s lab who is also working on his honor’s thesis. We were collecting a lot of data and planned to publish at the end of the summer. We were fortunate enough to finish most of the lab work before we had to close the lab, although we were interested in exploring another side of the story. That side of the story might not be told this time around, but I have hope that I will be back to tackle it soon!” One of the biggest challenges in Dr. Zarnescu’s lab during the shutdown is trying to keep the flies alive. While My Duyen studies and works remotely, she is looking back at the data they collected. She doesn’t find this part of research the most exciting, but making the graphs and finding the significance of the data is rewarding. She is reading as much as she can and doing analysis of what they collected as well as learning more about programming in R and Prism. “It's been hard to pick up R. I downloaded Prism and am learning that. I want to see how good I can make the graphs look!”

My Duyen told me a bit more about her desire to be in a supportive department and to have faculty mentors. “I realize now anyone can be good at any major; the bigger part is your mentor. Who is the faculty that will support you? I felt a connection with the MCB department. I could email Dr. Ted or Dr. Zarnescu, or my advisor, Kara Dyson, anytime and they would respond. Dr. Zarnescu is so supportive! She encouraged me to apply for these scholarships and I got this one!”

I was impressed with My Duyen’s confidence and willingness to try things she wasn’t familiar with. She told me it wasn’t always this way for her though. “A part of me was afraid to apply to these things! What does it tell me if I don’t get them? I only applied to those I knew I would get because I had a fear of being rejected. It seems trivial now but it was a real thing! I was scared to apply to UBRP. I didn't want to feel like a failure.”

My Duyen shared one thing she did to break this trend. “My friend has a ‘Resume of Fails’. Anything that doesn’t work out he puts on his ‘Resume of Fails’. On a typical resume you only put successes. This semester I decided I was going to get rejected for more things and I created my own ‘Resume of Fails’ because I realized I only applied to things I knew I wouldn't fail at. My resume of fails was mostly blank when I first wrote it because I wasn't putting myself out there. I asked myself What am I missing?” With this new attitude, My Duyen “just applied to everything! And I got things I didn't expect! I am going to add more to my ‘Resume of Fails’ because it's been great and I've seen a lot of changes. I'm embracing rejection now. It's still hard but I am making an effort to change.”

My Duyen Tran University of Arizona MCB Student KickboxingWith her perseverance and inquisitiveness, it’s not hard to imagine My Duyen finishing her B.S. and going on to medical school. “I would love to change the health care industry! I want to have flexibility so I can spend time in a clinic or hospital working and still have time on my own to volunteer for those who don't have health insurance.” For now, My Duyen is trying to take things one day at a time. “After HS, I said "no more plans", but for medical school I do need to plan. And then there is the pandemic! A lot of things are in the air right now so the best thing I can do right now is not plan so far ahead but try to keep the big picture in mind. I think the ability to adapt is much better than ability to follow a plan.”

When My Duyen isn’t studying or working on research in the lab, she loves to play sports and it seems she’s tried them all -  soccer, basketball, track, cross country, shot put, discus and swimming. “I wasn't very good at any of them; I did them because I liked them! The one thing I am good at is kickboxing and boxing. I was an amateur fighter for a bit. Those were some of the best years of my life!” Thanks for sharing some of your tips to success My Duyen, and I bet many who read this will take your advice and create our own “Resume of Fails”!


Michele Vaughan
Publish Date: 
Apr 24, 2020