Childhood hometown: Yangon, Myanmar
Current hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Majors: Biology and Asian Studies, with a Chemistry minor
Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
When I was choosing a college four years ago, I had no clue as to what I wanted or where I wanted to go. I applied to Bowdoin at the last minute because my AP Calculus teacher, who happened to be a Bowdoin graduate, encouraged me to apply. I visited Bowdoin after I was accepted and sat through the immunology class taught by Anne McBride, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry. The class was very interesting and I said to myself that I could see myself taking classes like this one at Bowdoin for the next four years. I also have to say that a major factor for me was the financial aid. Without the generous financial aid that I received at Bowdoin through the endowment scholarships, I would not be here and my vision of myself as a Bowdoin student would never have come true. I am forever grateful and indebted for this great generosity and opportunity and I plan to give back to the college in the future when I have the right resources.
Why did you choose you major?
I started out as a freshman with the idea of being biology major and I ended up with taking that route. Biology has always been one of my greatest interests. Who but biologists would have thought that the green and harmless grasses in your backyard are competing against each other for all the natural resources such as sunlight and soil space? I picked up my second major in Asian Studies after I took two classes in the program during my sophomore year: Theravada Buddhism and Chinese Politics. Although I was born in a Buddhist society, I never knew anything about the philosophy aspects of Buddhism until I took Theravada Buddhism. People like me from Buddhist societies tend to know only what we are doing and not exactly why we are doing it. The class showed me many new perspectives and ways to look at religions. Buddhism had a new meaning to me after I took the class.
What has been your favorite course at Bowdoin?
This is probably the trickiest question on this list. I have so many favorite courses. Theravada Buddhism, Chinese Politics, Transnational Chinese Cinema, Conquests and Heroes, Evolution, Biology of Marine Organisms, Biochemistry II, Organic Chemistry (OC), and Creative Reading just to name a few. If I had to choose just one favorite course, I would have to say it was Organic Chemistry II. It was taught by one of my favorite teachers here at Bowdoin, Brian Linton, assistant professor of chemistry. I learned why sugar tastes sweet and why artificial sweetener is not digestible. I used to dislike chemistry in high school, but the two semesters of OC changed my hatred for chemistry into a love and passion for the field, and I ended up minoring in chemistry.
Have you engaged in any independent research while at Bowdoin?
I actually did five independent studies here at Bowdoin: four in the biology department and one in Asian Studies. Within biology, I had been involved with an independent research project in Associate Professor Mike Palopoli's evolutionary genetics lab titled "Mapping the plg-1 Gene in Caenorhabditis elegans." I spent two of my summers and over two full years hunting down this gene using various mapping techniques, and I had narrowed down the estimated region of the gene to 0.65% of where I had started. I worked with several other undergraduate students on the project, and I finally wrote my senior honors thesis based on the work I did for Prof. Palopoli. I definitely enjoy doing genetic and molecular biology research, and I will be doing more genetic research in a zebrafish lab in Boston after graduation.
For the Asian Studies Program, I did an independent study on the Mongol invasions of Southeast Asia during the Yuan dynasty for Tom Conlan, associate professor of history and Asian studies. The title of my project was "Portraying Mongols as the Main Cause for Ethnological Shifts of Thirteenth Century Southeast Asia," and I read over 150 primary and secondary sources in the Burmese, Chinese, and English languages for the project. Doing research in history is very interesting and, if not for my love of biology, I would have been a history major.
What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
For two of the summers, I stayed on the Bowdoin campus doing my independent research project. During the first summer, the project was funded through a National Science Foundation Grant awarded to my advisor Prof. Mike Palopoli. For the second summer, I received the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship to do undergraduate biological research. Given the fact that Maine has its best weather during the summer, the campus looks extra beautiful and is an added incentive to stick and around and do research.
I have been a student manager for Bowdoin College Dining Service in Thorne Dining Hall for all my four years at Bowdoin. The dining hall staff members are the best and the friendliest coworkers imaginable. They treated me as one of their family, and the dining hall staff is the one of the things that I am going to miss the most about Bowdoin. I also worked for the Chemistry Department as a laboratory assistant. I worked with Prof. David Page, Rene Bernier, and Judith Foster assisting other students in the chemistry labs. It has been a lot of fun interacting and making friends with all the young students who needed help in with their labs.
I have also volunteered in the Hospital Elder Life Program at Maine Medical Center, where I provided assistance for patients over 65 years old with feeding, early mobilization, sleep enhancement, vision/hearing, mental stimulation, and socialization. I have also participated in other volunteer activities such as doing community service on Earth Days and Bowdoin's "Common Good Days." For Bowdoin Habitat for Humanity, I also helped to build a house for an underprivileged family and organizing the Sleeping on the Quad event to raise awareness of poverty in Maine and in the United States. Finally, I have also been involved with Asian Students Association (ASA), International Club, Korean American Students Association (KASA), and Russian Club, which are all student clubs here at Bowdoin.
Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I did not study abroad during my eight semesters here at Bowdoin, but I did go to China for the summer after my sophomore year for an intensive Chinese language study through CET Academic Programs in Beijing. I received the Freeman Foundation Fellowship [for study abroad in Asia], which paid for the program. The experience of being abroad was a blast and changed my life in so many positive ways. My Chinese skills improved dramatically while I also became more mature as a person. At CET, I made many Chinese and American friends with whom I still keep in touch. One of my favorite memories was going to see some of the games of the 2004 Asian Cup, which was going on while we were there in Beijing.
What is your best Bowdoin memory?
This is the second trickiest question! I have so many best memories: skydiving during my first year, finally learning how to swim when I was a junior my third year, sleeping on the quad, going on trip to Quebec with the Russian Club, skiing with the International Club, paintballing with KASA, and being the beast in the ASA fashion show. If I have to pick just one memory, then it would be the making of the movie, "A Day in the Life of Aye and Mr. Honey," for my Transnational Chinese Cinema class. It was a group project and we spent two 8-mm tapes, filming over 50 hours of footage, for a seven minute-long comedy. Mr. Honey is my roommate Becca's cat, and we portrayed him as a human who has a life parallel to my own. Many of my friends were extras in the movie, and I called on them to shoot the classroom scene on a Friday night in Druckenmiller Hall just a few days before the premiere of the movie. Funnily enough, Mr. Honey won the Best Supporting Actor Award in this year's Bowdoin Film Festival.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I will be working as a research assistant in the Zon Lab at Children's Hospital Boston for the next two years. I will be doing cancer research using Zebrafish as our model, as well as finishing up the zebrafish genome project. The Zon Lab is one of the biggest academic research labs as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and they have over 100,000 zebrafish in their fish tanks. I am very excited to be a part of their research team before continuing my education with medical school.
What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Without a doubt, I can assure you that your four years at Bowdoin will be the best four years of your life. These four years seem like they have passed by faster than the life span of a nematode. I would advise everyone not to try to do too much or spread yourself too thinly. If you really want to do something here at Bowdoin, make sure you make time to do it. Also, do not ever hesitate to ask someone for help in the Bowdoin community. In an academic atmosphere such as Bowdoin, everyone is willing to or is there to help each other out and learn from one another. Be open-minded and use as many resources here at "Bo Bo" as you can. Listen to the advice of upper-classmen [about classes] because they have been there and done that and they know exactly what they are talking about. To me, Bowdoin is basically a big happy family, so be ready to meet and get to know all the nice people around you and enjoy these four memorable years.