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A Piece of Tasha's Story

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Meet Tasha Thong; a grad student at the University of Michigan studying toxicology with an adventurous, bold spirit. She loves exploring her new town of Ann Arbor and has some great insider gems to visit. Get to know more about this ambitious gal and how she plans to get her PhD five years from now! Thanks for sharing a piece of your story Tasha!

WHAT ARE YOU UP TO RIGHT NOW? ARE YOU IN SCHOOL, WORK?

I am currently in grad school at the University of Michigan, studying Toxicology at the School of Public Health. I take classes and I am also doing research in a lab that studies breast and colon cancer. We’re especially interested in environmental factors that influence the development of cancers, and we grow organoids from live tissue, so my Professor likes to jokingly describe what we do as “growing little tiny breasts on a plate,” that’s pretty fun!

WHAT'S YOUR DAILY ROUTINE LIKE? ANY MORNING RITUALS OR TIPS ON HOW TO GET READY?

I have pretty early morning classes, so my daily routine is usually me rushing out the door and making sure there are clothes on my body.  Every morning I play pump up jams while I get dressed and brush my teeth, and I’ve found that it’s a great way to help me wake up in the morning. This usually involves me dancing awkwardly around my room while frantically trying to get my life together, but I always have a good laugh at myself and I think laughter is the best way to start the day.

YOU'RE IN GRAD SCHOOL IN ANN ARBOR, HOW IS THAT? WAS THE MOVE FROM WEST MICHIGAN TO EAST MICHIGAN HARD OR HAVE YOU ENJOYED IT?

I’ve been loving it so far.  It helps that I’m studying something I really love and am passionate about, but I’m also the kind of person who enjoys change and new things, so it’s been very exciting and fun so far. I really loved living in Grand Rapids and I miss all the breweries, my favorite restaurants, and Grand Rapidian friends, but Ann Arbor also has a ton to do and lots of food to eat, so the move has been an enjoyable experience.

TELL US ABOUT THE BEST THINGS ANN ARBOR HAS TO OFFER! WE WANT THE INSIDE SCOOP!

Wow this is so hard because there are so many, so I guess I’ll break this down by category. (DISCLAIMER: this is just a short list of some of my favorites, Ann Arbor has endless options)

-Coffee Shops/Cafes: Literati, Roos Roast, Shinola Coffee, Lab, Comet Coffee, TeaHaus

-Pastry Shops: Pastry Peddler (the almond croissants are literally heaven), Zingermans

-Bars: Ashley’s (An endless list of great beer, if you’re into that, which you should be if you live in Michigan), The Last Word, The Blue Leprechaun, Mash, Heidelberg, Good Time Charley’s, The Beer Grotto

-Brunch Places: Sava’s, Spencer, Café Zola, Aut Bar

-Other fun places to check out: The Kerrytown farmers market, Thistle & Bess, TODAY (men’s fashion)

HOW DO YOU REPRESENT THE TRAIT BOLD? DOES IT COME NATURALLY TO YOU?

My mom always likes to tell people that when my sister was born she came out crying quietly and that when I was born I came out screaming at the top of my lungs, making sure the whole world knew that I had arrived. I guess you could say it’s been a part of who I am since the beginning. I try to live a life where I am unapologetically myself. Life is too short not to live exuberantly, so I love to take risks and try new things and go on adventures. My freshman year of college a girl on my floor told me to come to a rugby practice with her and I had never played before and knew nothing about it, but I went and I ended up loving it and playing for the next two years. I think that’s a great example of how I often just go for things and am open to giving everything a try.

HOW DO YOU STAY MOTIVATED? ARE THERE CERTAIN THINGS YOU DO TO GET YOU GOING?

I am now on my 16th year of school, so staying motivated can be really challenging sometimes. I’ve found that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so what’s been really helpful to me is to break down the things I have to get done into smaller chunks and to take everything one day at a time. I also set myself short, attainable goals, and when I’m productive I give myself little rewards like taking a break to watch TV or taking a snack break.  It’s all dependent on the situation, for really tough things I’ve found that a hot shower and a good ugly cry can be great for the soul and often that helps me feel like I have let it all out and I can have a fresh start. Good food and quality time with good friends are also things that really help me recharge and get me going again.

ASIDE FROM BEING BOLD, WHAT ARE THREE OTHER PERSONALITY TRAITS THAT DESCRIBE YOURSELF AND HOW SO?

  • Adventurous: I was born in Singapore and I grew up moving around Hong Kong and China, so moving around and travel has been a huge part of my life since I was an infant and now I feel like I can’t stop. Whether it’s getting to explore huge cities or hiking in the middle of nowhere, I think it’s exciting to venture out of my comfort zone and experience new things. Whenever I can I like planning fun trips to new places with my friends or even little mini adventures to explore new parts of whatever city I’m living in, I am always open to new places, food, friends, activities to try, ideas, or any combination of the above,
  • Ambitious: I’ve just started grad school, so I’m kind of in it for the long haul. I know there is a massively long road ahead of me, but I feel like I’ve found something that I love and is fulfilling to me so I’m not afraid to continue putting in the work for it. Whether its taking on 5 years of grad school or being challenged by my guy friends to an eating competition, I don’t scare easily when it comes to achieving big things.
  • Independent: When I was little and all my friends wanted to be princesses and pop stars I told my Mom that I was going to be a janitor, so I think I’ve always been someone who marches to the beat of my own drum. Since venturing into the world of adulting I like to think I’ve successfully become a self-sufficient person while still giving myself the grace to know when to ask for help when I need it.

HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR BOLD PERSONALITY RUBBING OFF ON OTHERS, OR POSSIBLY HELPING YOU IN YOUR FUTURE CAREER?

I’m not afraid to speak my mind and to stand up for what I believe is right. I like to think that by doing so I encourage others to do this same. I’ve been known to be successful at persuading my friends to go on adventures with me and encouraging them to do things outside of their comfort zones. In terms of future career, I think the fact that I am willing to take risks, try new things, and confidently take on challenges will help me succeed.

WHAT DOES YOUR IDEAL DAY LOOK LIKE FROM START TO FINISH? I.E. HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR FREE TIME WHEN YOU'RE NOT STUDYING?

I have discovered this amazing pastry shop around the corner from my apartment so I would probably start the day by getting one of their almond croissants, making a cup of tea, and reading one of the many books I’ve started and haven’t had the time to finish reading. I also love food and spending time with my friends, so I would probably try to grab lunch with a couple friends, try a new restaurant, because I always have a mental list of places I’m dying to get to. I would probably take myself home and tuck myself into bed for a nap after that, maybe watch a little TV in bed. I really enjoy cooking so I would probably put on some music and drink some wine while cooking dinner and then maybe go out dancing with friends after.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU'VE FACED SINCE BEING A GRADUATE STUDENT? ANY ADVICE FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO PURSUE IT?

It’s easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed with challenging classes, work, etc, and for me it’s been so important to periodically remind myself of why I’m still in school and not to lose sight of why I’m doing what I’m doing. I have learned so much in my classes and have had amazing research opportunities that have really affirmed my choice to study Toxicology and reinforced how passionate I am about public health. When I’m feeling discouraged and overwhelmed I remind myself that the small challenges that I am facing now are moving me closer towards contributing to something much bigger than myself and that I am so privileged to get to be a part of it.

At the graduate level the large majority of people are really brilliant and driven and it’s easy to compare yourself and feel intimidated. What has been really helpful to me is to remind myself that I earned my spot in grad school just like everyone else and that I wouldn’t be here if the program and professors didn’t see potential in me. It is also really important to surround yourself with people who will build you up and surround you with positivity. It’s been really helpful for me to find friends here who I can study with and don’t get overly stressed and also know how to separate work from leisure.   

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF FIVE YEARS? WHAT ABOUT TEN?

In 5 years I’ll hopefully be wrapping up my PhD (fingers crossed I make it that far!) In 10, I would love to be a Professor with my own cancer lab getting to boss around my very own grad and undergrad minions, hopefully with enough funding to be able to do cutting edge research.  

WHAT'S THE BIGGEST ADVICE YOU'VE BEEN GIVEN AND HOW HAS IT HELPED YOU THUS FAR? IS IT DIFFERENT OR THE SAME FROM WHAT YOU WOULD GIVE TO SOMEONE ELSE?

This isn’t so much advice that has been given to me so much as a quote that I try to live by, and it’s: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” –Desmond Tutu

I’m very much a doer, and being in school sometimes makes me feel like I’m not actively doing grand things and changing the world, and I think this quote has really helped me stay grounded and find purpose in my day to day life. For others who are like me and are itching to get out into the world and may feel like they aren’t actively getting their hands dirty enough, I think it’s helpful to be reminded that no matter where you are there is always good to be done if you make the choice to seek it out and take it on.

Check out more from Tasha below!

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