Connect with Lenny at email@example.com
Major: Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences, PhD
of study: Biology/Evolutionary
Lengxob “Lenny” Yong’s passion is biology, and his dedication to his research and dissertation work has garnered him a number of grants, including a prestigious dissertation improvement grant from the National Science Foundation. A doctoral student in the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Biological Sciences, Yong is studying the evolution of a trait in females of a species of small freshwater fish that normally only occurs in males of that species. The PhD candidate’s work promises to test an important current model explaining the genetic basis of the origin of new traits.
How did you choose your area of graduate study?
Like many biologists, I have always
been fascinated by biodiversity. After my undergraduate years, I took some time
off to work in the marine sciences, specifically with marine mammals. While
working with whales as an intern, I became more interested in
evolutionary-based questions, such as "How did whales adapt to a marine
environment? How did new morphological traits come about? Why are males and
females so morphologically different?" However, for answering such scientific
questions, large vertebrates are not always best suited for studying
evolutionary processes. So I moved on to studying another, but more amenable,
vertebrate model, the threespine stickleback, which has enabled me to tackle
the same basic and evolutionary questions and also led to my current graduate
program at ECU.
What do you find most challenging/rewarding about your
graduate school experience?
Applying for external research
grants is probably one of the most challenging, yet best learning, experiences.
That is because, not only am I competing with my peers at ECU, but I am also
competing with others at a national level. Funding resources can be limited,
and the competition can be intense as there are plenty of bright minds out
there. On the other hand, once you are awarded a research grant, it is perhaps
one of the most rewarding experiences. It is gratifying to know that all of
that hard work paid off and have your research being acknowledged as worthy of
What is cool about your area of study and why should people
care about it?
The cool thing about my area of
study is that it is rapidly 'evolving,' and new discoveries are made daily. New
technologies now also enable us to test some very longstanding ideas in
biology. For instance, we can now relatively and easily study the genetic basis
of many important complex traits, especially those implicated in human diseases
using genome sequencing, as well as successfully modify genes of interest using
newly available genomic editing tools. While my area of study does not directly
cure diseases, it provides a better understanding for some very basic
biological processes and establishes the foundation for most types of
translational and applied sciences, which could potentially result in a disease
treatment or a cure. As a result, my area of study can have some very long-term
implications, and the public needs to be informed about the importance of basic
sciences, which may lead to major scientific breakthroughs and societal benefits.
Tell us about any academic awards/recognitions/publications
you may have achieved:
National Science Foundation
Dissertation Improvement Grant, Phi Kappa Phi, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial
Grant Award, Rosemary Grant Award, Pre-doctoral Ford Foundation Honorable
Mention, Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship Honorable Mention, Raney Ichthyology Research Award, Northwest Marine Technology Innovative Research Grant
What recognition are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of the fact that I
was a major writing contributor with my advisor on a successfully funded NIH
grant. Those grants are primarily awarded to senior researchers, and the fact
that I co- wrote a proposal that was recognized by the NIH as an important
piece of scientific research, was an important milestone for my professional
How do you think your ECU graduate education has helped you?
It has helped me to develop at a
professional level. The ECU community is a very close-knit environment, where
it is relatively easy to contact anyone for personal advice or professional
guidance. This also facilitates potential networking and collaboration
opportunities, as well.
What would you say to someone considering ECU as a potential
ECU has some very strong
professional programs, which are sadly often understated. It provides all that
is needed for professional and personal development. The graduate student body
is small and cohesive, and offers good support when in need. Also, the
University is located in an area that is relatively affordable for graduate
school and close enough to outdoorsy recreations, e.g. the beach, if you need a
short stress-free escape.
Hobbies: Traveling, trying new food varieties, scuba diving
College: Brody School of Medicine
Clubs & Organizations: BGSA, Phi Kappa Phi
Internships: Whale Center of New England, Wolf Hollow Rehabilitation Center
Favorite class: Anything in Biology
Professor who has influenced you the most: Dr. Tim Bartness
Dream job: Scientific Researcher
Reasons for choosing Biology: Ever since I was a child, I had a passion for biology and all of the sciences in general. I grew up watching documentaries, e.g. National Geographic, and had a special interest in studying marine animals and surveying the oceans. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to pursue that soon after college.
Your words to live by: “Stay healthy and active, be kind to others, work hard, maintain a sense of humor, and embrace change.”
Significant life lesson you’ve learned while at ECU: Staying proactive and persistent is probably the biggest lesson that I've learned so far. While many people, e.g. mentors, friends, would be willing to help you at ECU, ultimately, you have to take charge of the direction of your learning experience and career. With that, you must be willing to widen your options, take some risks, and think outside of the box (especially in my line of work), including thinking about approaches that others have not considered or avoided to consider. Given the limited experience of some, there is only so much that they can do to help you. But you can make things happen for yourself if you're willing to put in the time and effort. Needless to say, with that comes more obstacles, which is why it is also important to "keep at it," especially when facing failure and rejection. Importantly, one must NOT give up. In the end, as long as you know what your goals are and are willing to do what is necessary to fulfill them (and persist), you can only be successful.