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CUI Prepares Students for PhDs

March 06, 2018 - 2 minute read

Grace Chong and Cecilia Eiroa working in the Chemistry lab

Grace Chong ’15 launched into a PhD research program from her undergrad training at Concordia and today is flourishing in her doctoral studies because of her preparation at Concordia University Irvine.

“Grace chose to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities afforded her at Concordia,” says Dr. John Kenney, professor of chemistry and chemical physics. “She was thankful to be here, serious about doing well in courses and working with the Concordia science faculty.”

Working with them helped me recognize that I have passion for teaching. As of now I want to be a university professor, researcher and teacher.

Grace is at USC’s PhD program in molecular biology doing research on DNA repair.

“Everybody gets DNA damage from something as simple as sunlight to the oxygen you breathe,” she says. “How does your body fix those things? That’s what I was studying in my recent lab rotation: how the body repairs certain problems. The research is really, really cool.”

She came to Concordia University Irvine intending to go into the medical field, but changed her mind because of the research she was involved in at Concordia University Irvine.

“When I first met Dr. Kenney, he said he was notorious for converting pre-med students into research students and in my case, he was successful,” says Grace who intended to become a pediatrician and family doctor and “thought research was being stuck in a lab all day by yourself.”

But after doing research with Dr. Kenney, “I found out the challenges are interesting— to think about a problem and then design experiments, make sense of the results and figure out what’s important,” Grace says. “Also, training other people was a lot of fun. That’s what pushed me to become more of a professor rather than to go straight into industry.”

Grace did a summer internship with Dr. Kenney in the lab and volunteered at the Village of Hope, hosting dozens of kids for on-campus science camps. She applied to doctoral programs and was accepted by UCLA, USC, UCSD and Rice. She credits mentors Dr. Lindsay Kane-Barnese ’05 and Dr. Kenney.

“Working with them helped me recognize that I have passion for teaching,” Grace says. “As of now I want to be a university professor, researcher and teacher.”

Kenney says that virtually all science students at Concordia University Irvine now are engaged in research at a significant level.

“Our facilities and equipment inventory have grown exponentially,” he says. “We have summer institutes for high school students and very high-ability Concordia students studying to get degrees in these disciplines. Virtually all do extended research projects over many semesters.”

By his count, four students each year go on to PhD programs which “is pretty significant for a program of our size.”

More than that, “they excel in those programs. That tells us that our coursework is rigorous, our students are learning the fundamentals, and their extensive exposure to research as undergraduates is positioning them to be PhD students.”

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