Making a Difference

If you never make a mistake, you never learn. Chemistry doctoral student Chen Liang finds great freedom in the lab of Dr. David Lynn where she says students are given maximum freedom to conduct their own research and even encouraged to make mistakes for the sake of learning.

Originally from China, Chen arrived at Emory with a degree from China Pharmaceutical University and an intense interest in medicinal chemistry. At Emory, Chen's research focuses on the mechanism of how deleterious proteins - also known as amyloid - spread and cause dementia in Alzheimer's patients. "I discovered as amyloid proteins spread in the environment, they evolve into various structures with potential different toxicity. Amyloid might be similar to cancer: they mutate as they spread." What this might explain, according to Chen, is "why conventional drug discovery methods don't succeed with Alzheimer's - they generally ignore the structural diversity and the changing nature of amyloid."  With more than five million living with Alzheimer's just in the U.S., Chen's goal is simple - to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Beyond her research, however, Chen is also focused on another goal: preparing underserved K-12 students to attend college. In fall 2012, Chen became involved in volunteer efforts that exposed her to the challenges of refugee children in Clarkston, Georgia. This experience led to other exposures to underserved communities in Atlanta, and from there, an idea - a seed, if you will - was sown. "The best way to change the life of an underserved child is through education," says Chen, so with the support of Emory's Center for Community Engagement and Leadership, she founded the Student Educational Experience Development or SEED. The SEED mission is to motivate and enable underserved K-12 students to attend college through creating first-hand experience, establishing research opportunities and one-on-one mentorship. It is an innovative program making a difference in the lives of underserved youth while creating a pipeline of new students for institutions of higher education. 

The Laney Advantage

For Chen, Laney's teaching program, TATTO, and its Professional Development Support Funds, or PDS, have provided invaluable support in her graduate journey. 

"In terms of research, PDS has helped the most, I used conference funding to attend national meetings to know people in the field, learn about research trends and explore potential research opportunities. I have also met some academic big shots in person which is exciting."  As an international student, TATTO has been important both professional and culturally. "I am from China and my culture is different. TATOO prepared me to adjust to the classroom culture here. Also, in the beginning of my 4th year, I had the privilege to share my own TA experiences and tips with incoming international TAs." 

As Chen's graduate career at Emory winds down, she offers some words of wisdom to future students, particularly international students: "I strongly encourage international students to step out of their comfort zone to participate in all the wonderful programs LGS and Emory provide, many of which are not available in our home countries. Getting the degree is important but Emory and LGS provide more than that. You can gain a variety of experiences; learn a new way of thinking and increase confidence as well."