McNair in San Francisco: Uyen-Mai Doan
Born in Vietnam, Uyen-Mai Doan moved to the U.S. in 1996. Since her parents had always placed high value on education, they moved the family, because the U.S. is known for providing the best education in the world. College has always been the expectation. Her parents have made many sacrifices for their children to study in the U.S. Mai, as she is known to family and friends, remembers the struggles that her parents endured. “They were willing to work at factories where most Americans are not willing to work” she says. Mai recognizes that her parents were separated from their parents and siblings, adjusted to a new life, environment, language, and culture for the sake of her educational benefit. She is extremely grateful for their commitment and uses their struggle as motivation to excel.
Mai admits that she came to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) because of the financial aid package. After attending UNH, she came to realize that the professors are “friendly, helpful and nice.” She found many opportunities to explore different interest areas. Mai said “I also learned that if I am willing to ask professors for [an] opportunity, then most of the time they are willing to provide it.”
At UNH, Mai has been able to work on two different research projects. One was in the fresh water biology lab were she learned about plankton and its importance in the eco-system. The other lab, the one in which she works currently, allows her to practice techniques to analyze the structure of proteins. Mai signed on to the project under the guidance of her mentor Dr. Tom Laue because of her inexperience with research and the process of deriving her own research topic, but believes the research is very interesting because the analysis of proteins can be used in the research of medication. Moreover, this kind of work is the reason she chose to major in biochemistry; she wants to identify properties in certain plants that can be used to cure diseases such as cancer and hepatitis.
In the summer of 2009, Mai embarked on her third research project as an undergraduate student. She travelled to the University of California at San Francisco, one of the top biological schools in the nation, on a ten-week research internship. The weather in San Francisco hovers at about 60 degrees and is often foggy; it is not like the sunny California that everyone keeps talking about, she says. “There are only two seasons: dry and rainy.” Mai expressed that it was a great summer and she had numerable experiences she would not have had otherwise. As a rising senior, she was able to work in a lab consisting of over thirty personnel, including graduate students, technicians, and post-docs. In addition, she has met people from all over the country and now has the experience of big city life. In fact, Mai acknowledges that while the life style and the weather in San Francisco are beautiful, she was struck by the level of poverty. Despite its social challenges, Mai believes San Francisco is a nice place.
While participating in the TRIO Upward Bound (UB) Program at her high school in Manchester, Mai heard about the McNair Scholars Program, a sister program to UB. The UB program is an initiative to prepare students for the transition to college. Mai describes her feelings this way:
My experience with Upward Bound was wonderful and I thought that McNair would provide me with the same experience in preparing for graduate school. I believe that McNair did provide me with many opportunities to visit graduate schools. It also provided a lot of information on funding, the application process, GRE, and explained the difference between graduate school and undergraduate study. After finishing the summer component of McNair, I believe that it was a rewarding experience.
Mai acknowledges that the McNair Program is not easy as it holds high expectations for its scholars. She admits that she was intimidated at first, but learned the seemingly arduous program is designed to help her succeed in the rigors of graduate school. Mai shares with others that McNair is a fun and rewarding program. Her advice to any student thinking of applying is to be prepared for the workload and to “expect to be asked a lot of questions.”