Member’s Spotlight with Yena Woo

Taken from ASBMB’s monthly research newsletter: The Monthly Digest (Mar. 2021, Issue 3).

Written by Priscilla Cho

Yena Woo is a second year at Emory University majoring in chemistry and minoring in anthropology. She’s from Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Writer Priscilla Cho sat down to talk about her current research experience and journey.

Yena Woo

How long have you been a part of ASBMB, and why did you decide to join ASBMB?

I’ve been a part of ASBMB since my freshman year. I decided to join ASBMB because i was really into research, and I knew that I wanted to do research and possibly pursue it as a career coming into college. I knew that Emory had an ASBMB chapter which has to do with molecular biology and biochemistry, and since I was really interested in that, I decided to join ASBMB.

What is your current position in ASBMB, and what responsibilities do you have?

I am the treasurer for ASBMB for this academic year, and I am responsible for knowing how to manage the club’s finances and all the university procedures regarding that. 

What research do you do at emory and what is your role in the project?

I do research in Dr. Yepes lab at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory, and I work in the Neurology Department. The lab that I work in focuses on the plasminogen activator system and its role in neuroprotection, neurorepair, and its application to neurodegenerative diseases like alzheimer’s disease. I joined the lab in my second semester of freshman year after figuring out what lab to work in during the previous semester. I knew coming into college that I really wanted to do something regarding Alzheimer’s Disease, and after cold-emailing professors, I ended up working in this lab. For the second semester, I was trained in a lot of different techniques, and unfortunately the pandemic happened. But in light of that, I was able to participate in writing a review paper with my PI regarding the plasminogen activator system and its role in neurodegenerative diseases. We were able to work on that throughout the pandemic, and we are soon going to be submitting that for publication, so hopefully everything goes well. Now I’m also continuing with different projects in the lab, such as looking at the blood-brain barrier. My responsibilities right now include learning different techniques like immunocytochemistry, immunohistochemistry, working with the confocal microscope, which I really love, and also learning new techniques like western blotting and helping out with the different projects that are going on in the lab.

How has the pandemic affected your involvement in research?

I have to say that I was really bummed out because I was just getting into the lab, learning everything, and starting to work on new projects. But, fortunately, I was able to experience a different side of research that maybe i wouldn’t have been as exposed to if it weren’t for this virtual format. What i was initially doing was a lot of wet lab, which is like going to the lab and doing all the procedures and data analysis. But I was able to truly learn the importance of reading papers for research and the techniques regarding that because I know that at least for me, it was very different from what I was used to going into the lab. When you are in the lab and doing work, I think you have less time to solely be reading papers. Because of the pandemic, I was reading a lot of journal articles and learning how to write scientifically. Being able to eloquently relay a message about a topic I think was one of the biggest lessons that i learned. I am very thankful that I was able to write this review paper with my pi. Because not only was it a good learning experience, I learned so much about the topic because I have read so many articles about it. It’s really interesting to be able to see the greater picture and then know the details of it while you’re working on the project in the lab. I think that was a benefit to be able to write a review paper and work remotely because I had more time to read. Now, I am working in the lab. I am back on campus, so I go to lab 3 times a week and am enjoying it a lot. 

Do you have any advice for freshmen or do you have anything you wish you knew as a freshman while you were at Emory?

I think my number one piece of advice is not being afraid to hear the word “no.” Because I think a lot of times, especially as a freshman, it might be a little daunting to reach out to pis to get involved in research. You might feel a little intimidated to ask those questions especially in a laboratory where you know everyone is so intelligent and so well-versed in what they are studying. But I think it never hurts to ask. That was one of the biggest pieces of advice that was given to me which is why I was cold emailing pis to get the research opportunity. I think that this is something I would hope to pass on, which is to not be afraid to ask questions. That even goes further than research. But especially in research, asking questions is like the main crux of it because there is so much to learn, and I think that asking those questions further enhances your learning in the laboratory.

Do you have any future career plans?

Yeah, I actually want to get an MD-PhD. In light of my research experiences in college, I realized that I love being in lab. I want to have a balance where there is a clinical aspect to it along with the research. I think that would be a good interplay that I would really enjoy. Since I am working in a neurology lab, it’s not set in stone, but I hope to maybe continue my studies in neuroscience, neurology, and such. If you were to ask me in the beginning of high school if I would be a doctor, I would say no because I was that kid who was definitely afraid of doctors. I would hold my breath when we passed hospitals and things like that. But throughout high school and college, I realized that I really have all the passion for the sciences and research but then also in that application of trying to use that to help other people in any way possible. I think that another piece of advice to go to along with the previous question is don’t be afraid to try new things because you never know where it would lead you. If I didn’t try new things, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today or where I am headed.  

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