A few weeks before she began her freshman year, Eunice Chou ’14 contacted biology professor Kate Susman and asked if she could join a research team when the semester began. “I’d never had an incoming student ask me that before, but we chatted for a bit and I said OK,” Susman says. “She began her research with me on day one and continued for the next four years.”
Chou graduated last May with a degree in neuroscience and is now enrolled in the seven-year MD/PhD program at SUNY Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn. And this summer she’ll continue some of the research she began at Vassar at the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany.
Chou says the training she received at Vassar has prepared her well for her post-graduate studies. “The curriculum at Downstate has recently been modified to make the course work more collaborative and more hands-on,” she says. “That was the approach to science that was taken at Vassar, so I really felt prepared when I got here. We’re often given a problem to solve by seeking out primary sources, and reading primary sources was something we did a lot at Vassar.”
Throughout her undergraduate years, Chou worked closely with Susman on a project that examined the effects of a common fungicide, called Mancozeb, on the neurons that control the central nervous system of nematodes, tiny worms often used in scientific experiments. During her sophomore year, she collaborated with Susman, psychology professor Janet Gray and others on a paper outlining her preliminary findings in the scientific journal Neuro Toxicology. Chou continued that research in collaboration with a classmate, Hayley Lemoine ’14, for her senior project.
Chou will continue her course work at Downstate next year, then do research that will lead to a PhD degree three years later. After two additional years of clinical training, she’ll earn her MD degree. She says she hasn’t decided exactly what field she wants to pursue once she earns both degrees, but she’s fairly certain she’ll be addressing environmental health issues. “That’s the path I began at Vassar, and I’m planning to continue on it in some way,” Chou says. “I want to be involved in medicine that directly helps people rather than engage in purely academic research.”
Chou says she’s especially enjoying some volunteer work she’s doing with other Downstate students to help families living near the campus. As a member of the Students for Social Responsibility Club, she has given flu shots and helped to conduct free health screenings at barbershops, churches, nail salons, and community centers in Brooklyn under the auspices of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. She also volunteers at the Brooklyn Free Clinic, a student-run service at Downstate Medical Center that serves uninsured residents who live nearby. Chou says her involvement in Vassar’s ALANA (African American/Black, Latina/o, Asian/Asian American, Native American) Center had helped to kindle her interest in community medicine.
“Being part of the culture of ALANA was an enriching experience that helped me realize the importance of becoming involved in my community,” she says. “Overall, my entire Vassar experience has helped me. All the humanities courses I took helped me, too. Believe me, when you have to write up reports quickly – and that’s something you do a lot in medical school – it helps to have taken those courses with intensive writing requirements.”
Photo: Samuel Stuart