Vi Tangís summer internship makes his heart skip a beat

FDU senior Vi Tang is all heart in Dr. Sharlene Dayís cardiomyopathy lab at the University of Michigan.

By Kenna Caprio

Even before moving to the United States to study biology and biotechnology at Fairleigh Dickinson Universityís Metropolitan Campus, senior Vi Tang knew he wanted a career in medicine and research. Here, the 21-year-old native of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam discusses second summer in the lab:

FDU: Where are interning this summer? 
VT: Iím working in Dr. Sharlene Dayís lab at the University of Michigan doing cardiovascular research.

FDU: How did you originally become interested in cardiovascular research? 
VT: The heart has always been a fascinating organ to me because of its function and importance. 

Back in high school, I had a friend who needed a heart surgery. While visiting her, I talked to a couple of cardiologists and they inspired me to learn more about the heart. Thatís why when I found the fellowship program offered by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, I immediately applied for it.

FDU: How did you find out about and land the internship? Is this your first one? 
VT: This is my second summer in the lab. 

When I was a freshman, a fellow Vietnamese student recommended that I do a summer internship and she showed me a summer research fellowship program from Rockefeller University. 

I started looking into these programs in my sophomore year and applied to a few. I eventually got offered a position from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center and was placed into Dr. Dayís lab, my first choice! 

I had such a great summer last year that I wanted to spend another summer in the lab. I talked to Dr. Day and we applied for an undergraduate research training grant from the American Heart Association. Fortunately, my application was approved, so Iím here for another summer.

FDU: What made you want to work in a lab? What kind of lab work are you doing? 
VT: Iíve had interest in doing research since high school. When I was in tenth grade, I took a biology lab course and we did many experiments in different areas and they all interested me. 

So when I started college as a biology major, I wanted to get as much research experience as possible. During the school year, I work with Dr. Danyang Yu (FDU assistant professor of biology) assisting her research project on fruit fly embryogenesis. However, because of classes and other commitments, I can only spend a limited amount of time in the lab. Thus, I want to make that up by working fulltime in the lab in the summer.

Dr. Day and her lab study hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited heart disease that can cause sudden death in young adults, especially athletes. We are interested in the genetic mechanism of the disease. I assist a postdoctoral fellow with creating different cell lines to model the disease.

FDU: What makes this internship stand out to you? 
VT: Iíd heard of this disease before, so when I applied for the internship last year and found out that Dr. Day studied it, I immediately put her down as my first mentor choice. I was lucky to get placed into her lab.

FDU: Is this area of research something youíd like to pursue post-college? 
VT: Yes. Iím applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs this year, so I can be both a physician and a scientist. Iíve been interested in medicine since I was young, and became interested in research during high school years. These programs will bring my passions together.

FDU: How is the research expanding upon what you've learned in the classroom at FDU? 
VT: What Iíve learned at FDU and at University of Michigan complement each other nicely. When I started last summer, I hadnít taken any advanced biology classes at FDU yet, so the lab taught me a lot on genetics and lab techniques. 

Then when I came back to FDU, I took more advanced classes and what I learned during summer made everything a bit easier for me. Now that I have in-depth knowledge from FDU, I can apply it to my lab work this summer.

FDU: Whatís the biggest difference between learning in a lab and learning in a classroom? 
VT: Most of the time, the questions we ask in class (and lab section) have an expected answer. In contrast, most questions we ask in the lab donít have a definite answer. 

There are many possibilities that can explain what we observe in an experiment. Finding answers to those questions can be rewarding, but can also be frustrating sometimes. 

I would say that learning in a classroom is like walking with a road map in hand, whereas doing research in a lab is like walking in a dark cave. You might see the light at the far end, but you never know how long it takes to get there and what obstacles are ahead of you.

FDU: Whatís been the best moment or most-memorable learning experience at your internship? 
VT: I donít really have the one best moment. Every day is as exciting as the first day I started in the lab. 

FDU: Do you recommend other students apply for internships? Why?
VT: Definitely. Iíve learned so much from my internship, but more importantly, it gives me the opportunity to meet many inspiring people. This internship has given me many invaluable experiences that I would not have been able to obtain elsewhere.

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Tang picked Fairleigh Dickinson University because its diversity and proximity to New York City and Boston, Mass. where he has family. While experiencing American culture and education, Tang has become very involved on campus as a student ambassador, treasurer and then president of the International Student Association (ISA), an RA, a tutor and a computer lab assistant.

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

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