Meet the Scholars

Alumni in Action: Quang’s Story

After emigrating from Vietnam and struggling with housing insecurity during high school, 2014 Dell Scholar Quang enrolled at Duke University to chart a new path for himself and his family. His pursuit to give back to others has taken him around the world and into a PhD program. Here’s Quang’s story in his own words.

Growing up, my mother always emphasized the importance of going to school and being a good student. I wanted to make my mother happy and going to college became my goal. But it wasn’t always easy to get there.

At the age of 15, my mother and I emigrated from Vietnam to the US, where I began learning English almost from scratch at a high school where most of my friends were speaking Spanish. Later, when I was in the process of applying for colleges, we were kicked out of our relative’s house and began couch surfing from place to place. I was about to move into housing provided by a homeless youth organization when I got the acceptance to attend Duke University for college.

While in college, having access to resources through the Dell Scholars program, including Chegg book credits, and a laptop, gave me the freedom to focus on schoolwork and to truly explore my place in college. Importantly, it gave me peace of mind and a feeling of having a support system.

With the scholarship, I found myself less concerned about money and learned that when living to “make a living” was no longer my primary goal, I was more motivated to help others experience such a liberation. The Dell Scholars program empowered me to start thinking less about myself and more about others.

After graduating from Duke University in 2016, I took a fellowship conducting research at the US National Institutes of Health. But as my fellowship came to an end, I was still in search of more information about different career paths. I decided to accept an Erasmus Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in vaccinology, and through the LIVE program I rotated between Spain, Belgium, and France over the course of two years. This allowed me to learn more about vaccine development and explore research career opportunities in the industry.

I was determined and fortunately was able to join GSK Vaccines in Belgium to conduct my master’s thesis. These experiences broaden my understanding about the globally diverse potential career paths for a PhD holder, and I began applying for PhD programs. I eventually decided to further my scientific research journey at the University of Oxford as a DPhil student.

Quang’s Advice for Dell Scholars

Focus on becoming a good person in the service of others. Over time, our interests may change, but we can prepare for the unpredictable future by building a set of qualities that can help us excel no matter the circumstances. Regardless of the field or activities we’re involved in, we can transform our knowledge and talents into actions that create value for others.

Understand your own needs and ask for help. People can only help us when we know what we need help with, and to know that, we need to learn to share and listen. Truly we cannot use our own brain in isolation to understand itself! Being honest about how we feel is the most important step in meaningfully pursuing our goals.