June 26, 2020
Class of 2020: Curiosity sparks discovery for Faculty of Science grad
Angie Hu’s love of science research started at the University of Calgary before she even enrolled.
Hu, who graduates this month with a Bachelor of Science degree, made the most of her undergraduate years by taking every opportunity to participate in research, study abroad, and becoming an advocate for students.
- Photo above: Angie Hu in Jerusalem. Her sense of determination led her to a job as a summer student at the lab of Dr. Yifat Merbl at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
On-campus programs help ignite research ambitions
Hu’s passion for research started in high school, when she spent a summer on campus for the Alberta Innovates Heritage Youth Researcher Summer Program, and worked at a research lab in the Faculty of Nursing looking at the ethnocultural and gender differences affecting medication adherence of cardiac patients.
“It was my very first exposure to research, and I was fascinated by the research methodology,” Hu says. “It inspired me to pursue research further. The experience also helped me decide to come to UCalgary. Attending presentations by researchers and touring research facilities during the program had showed me the incredible people and work happening here — I really wanted to be part of it.”
After completing her first year in the Faculty of Science's Department of Chemistry, Hu jumped right into the research opportunities available to undergraduate students. During the summer, she participated in the Markin Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) in Health and Wellness.
She spent the summer working in Dr. Edward O’Brien’s translational biology lab, which focused on the mechanisms involved in the development of atherosclerosis. “The experience was exciting, yet challenging, especially as I was researching in a field not directly related to my field of study, as a chemistry major,” says Hu.
“It pushed me to direct my own learning and learn through applying. I’m very thankful for programs like the Markin USRP, the PURE Awards, and the IDEAS Fund. I believe they’re extremely valuable to students, giving us a chance to explore while opening up doors for our futures.”
International research opportunities inspire career ambitions
In the years that followed, Hu would open up doors on her own. Knowing that she wanted to continue exploring research, she figured she would try something different the summer after her second year. “I thought going abroad would be an excellent opportunity to broaden my horizons and challenge myself. Japan seemed like a perfect place to go,” she explains.
After searching for study abroad opportunities, Hu applied for, and was accepted to, an eight-week summer research placement at Kyoto University through the Amgen Scholars Program. She spent her time working in a molecular immunology lab, which aimed to develop control methods for inflammatory and immune diseases.
She also found inspiration in seeing how science can bridge differences in languages and cultures, and made friends from across the world that she is connected with to this day.
“My trip to Japan was an eye-opening experience for me. Exploring the research mindsets and approaches of scientists and labs across the world, and being able to compare that with my experience at UCalgary, was very insightful for me,” Hu says.
Not wanting to slow either her research or travel momentum, Hu's third summer of undergrad once again featured both.
“After my summer in Japan, I knew I wanted to do something similar the following summer. In trying to narrow down where I wanted to go next, I was drawn to Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. As a leading multidisciplinary research institute that fosters curiosity-driven research, I knew I’d be able to learn so much from the scientists there. Israel, with its rich culture and history, was also a place I really wanted to explore.”
Unfortunately, her first application to an undergraduate summer program at the Weizmann Institute was unsuccessful. Spurred forward by determination and a positive spirit, Hu did not let that get in her way.
Determined to study at the Weizmann Institute, she researched different labs that fit well with her own interests and reached out to professors. She was thrilled when she heard back from Dr. Yifat Merbl, who agreed to take her on as a summer student through the Visiting Students Program.
Merbl’s lab uses cutting-edge technology to study protein regulation processes in cancer and immunity, and Hu’s project — a biochemistry technique that tracks protein modification in cells — built on her previous research work in Japan and in O’Brien’s lab. The Faculty of Science helped fund her travel expenses through an IDEAS Fund scholarship and an Undergraduate International Research Grant from UCalgary International.
To add to her experience, Hu was named as an ambassador for Weizmann Canada, and shared her experiences with a Canadian audience through blogs, pictures, and social media posts.
“With opportunity and freedom to explore, I had some amazing adventures. Looking back, I remember the time flying by so quickly because I was having the time of my life both inside and outside the lab. I would love to go back. I felt such a great bond with the Merbl lab, as they treated me as part of the family.”
That’s not to say that the trip was all play and no work for Angie.
“In the lab, I’d stay 10 to 12 hours on weekdays. In addition to working on my own project, I would ask other lab members if I could assist with their projects. They were very supportive, and I was able to try many different things.
"Something that had left a very big impression on me was the attitude the scientists had toward the work — they weren’t coming into the lab like it was only a job, but rather, they were coming to something they really loved to do. That energy, excitement, and enthusiasm was something I felt really inspired by, and it’s something I want to take with me no matter what I do in the future.”
Advocating for students
When Hu returned to UCalgary for the fall semester, she did everything she could to share her passion and make sure that her fellow students were aware of the life-changing opportunities afforded by an international research experience.
For her final year of undergrad, she took on one more challenge — running for a Faculty of Science Representative position with the University of Calgary Students’ Union. She was elected to be one of three student representatives for the faculty, and began working with its International Engagement Committee to promote the international experience to students.
Through her role with the Students’ Union, Hu organized panel discussions and information sessions to promote the Mitacs Globalink Research Award opportunity. Her insights into the rewards and challenges of research abroad helped staff and faculty understand how to support students throughout the life cycle of a grant application, from opportunity identification and application support to debriefing upon return.
“Because I’m so passionate about international research, I really want more students to also have these experiences. There are so many opportunities out there!” she says.
Hu organized information sessions for students, offered them resources, and personally supported other students to seek opportunities and apply for them.
“It’s been really meaningful because I’ve been able to live their excitement with them as they anticipated their placement, but also heartbreaking because the COVID19 situation has caused the disruption of these programs.”
Ever-positive, she says, “But there’s always next year!
“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that if you really put your mind to something, you can make it happen, despite obstacles and setbacks in your way.
"I’m so grateful and lucky to have been part the Faculty of Science. Many of the positive experiences that I have had would not have been possible without the support and guidance of faculty members, staff, and fellow students. The Faculty of Science is a community that cheers you on and wants you to succeed. Research experiences in my undergrad really affirmed my passion for science and medicine.”
Hu is excited to continue exploring the world and research when it becomes safe to travel again, and hopes to apply to medical school to one day converge her passions.
- Read more: Check out many more profiles of the outstanding members of Class of 2020. And follow the graduate positivity on social media by following #ucalgarygrad