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Conversations with Emily Chang

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emily Chang.

Hi Emily, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Throughout elementary school, I was always interested in science, and I knew I wanted to major in STEM. In middle school, I had the opportunity to participate in the middle school Science Olympiad team. I then became team captain during my seventh and eighth-grade years. My passion for science has continued even into high school, and I will be the vice-captain of my high school’s Science Olympiad team this coming 2022-2023 season in my junior year. In addition to my love for science, I always had a passion for animals! Similar to my passion for science, my love for animals started in elementary school. I vividly remember a ginger tabby that lived in my neighborhood. He was owned by one of my neighbors, but he was an outdoor cat that was free to roam wherever he chose to. Since my parents didn’t allow any cats or dogs at home, even as I constantly begged them to adopt one, most of my evenings during elementary school were centered around this one cat. He was (and still is) one of the most loving cats that I have ever interacted with. He was a pretty old cat, and he eventually stopped coming around. I like to think that he lived his life to the fullest and he’s currently living his best life in cat heaven.

Combining my passion for science and animals, I decided that I wanted to become a veterinarian, or at least have some kind of career that involved animals and science. I volunteered at my local animal shelter as an adoption coordinator, and during the summer of my freshman year, I stumbled upon a program called the Talaria Summer Institute. Founded by Nora Sun in 2020, Talaria is a free summer STEM research mentorship program targeted toward female high school students who are struggling to find research opportunities. Conducting their own scientific research project helps young students build self-efficacy regarding their ability to excel in STEM, and having that initial research experience helps open doors to further opportunities for students to build their careers. However, many students do not have research opportunities readily available due to a variety of conflicts, such as living in an area that has no research opportunities for young students or not being able to afford more expensive apprenticeship programs. During the program, which is a month-long, mentees work one-on-one with a mentor who is a researcher at a university or other academic institution to complete a novel research project, write a paper, and present their work at the Talaria Summer Institute Conference.

I was struggling to find opportunities due to COVID, so I decided to apply. I filled out a simple application, and I got in! I was paired with Professor Rebecca Rooney from the University of Waterloo. Professor Rooney was extremely kind and patient during the entire process and she gave me a lot of resources and advice to help me succeed in writing my first research paper. Sticking with the passion I had for animals and science, I wrote a professional research paper about King Rail populations in Long Point, Ontario. For those who may not know what King Rails are, they are an endangered species of bird that dwell in freshwater and brackish marshes. Doing research on King Rails taught me skills in scientific writing, organizing, and analysis.

Talaria was such an amazing experience, and when I received the opportunity to become a co-founder and primary officer of the new Talaria Los Angeles chapter, I gladly stepped up to the role. As a co-founder and primary officer, I was responsible for recruiting new mentors and mentees for the upcoming Talaria season as well as creating group bonding events for the members in the LA chapter.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Being a primary officer during my sophomore year of high school definitely had its ups and downs. Although some people wouldn’t consider a sophomore year of high school to be challenging, it was a really tough year for me. Since my freshman year was entirely online, I didn’t get the chance to get a proper transition from middle school to high school. In addition to that, I was taking 4 AP classes (as well as another AP class I was personally self-studying) and juggling a bunch of extracurricular activities that were now suddenly all in person. With all of these responsibilities, I had a difficult time fulfilling my duties as a primary officer. However, with the help of the primary officer and co-founder Jessica Stanek and the secondary officers of the LA chapter, we managed to get things done efficiently despite all the high school chaos going on. Proper time management and prioritization was also a key to properly balancing everything that was going on in my life.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
One unique aspect of Talaria is that it is completely free. While many other research programs for high schoolers are quite costly even with financial aid, the Talaria Institute requires no cost to join. Talaria also features multiple guest speakers that come from a range of prestigious colleges such as Harvard and Columbia. These guest speakers give Talaria mentees valuable insights into advanced research and careers in science. Additionally, Talaria has location-based chapters that facilitate a unique bonding experience between the mentees who live near each other. Mentees who choose to attend in-person chapters have the option to participate in fun events that are hosted during Talaria. These bondings can range from virtual gaming sessions to in-person escape rooms!

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
One fun fact about Talaria is that the program is quite selective. This year, only 90 out of 700 applicants (13%) were admitted to the program. Talaria does not aim to be competitive; however, the program can only admit a limited number of applicants due to having a limited number of mentors. Though officers do not read applications for Talaria, one tip I would give prospective applicants is to make your passion about science and research clear and to clearly delineate why participating in Talaria would present an opportunity for you to do science research that you would not have otherwise in your application responses.

Another fun fact is that Talaria Institute is that the program has been recognized by the Nile Rodgers’s We Are Family Foundation. For those who may not know who Nile Rodgers is, he was a famous musician who composed a song called “We Are Family” that was recorded for the 9/11 tragedy. The goal of the foundation is peace, specifically through the pursuit of the UN sustainable development goals. The goals Talaria represents are Quality Education and Gender Equality. The founder of Talaria Summer Institute, Nora Sun, was named a Global Teen Leader 2022 by the foundation. Nora Sun is currently working with We Are Family Foundation mentors through the 3 Dot Dash Program to acquire funding for a residential chapter of Talaria.

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Image Credits
Mischa Yen Aiquan Chang Natasha Du Jessica Stanek Veronica Louise De Leon

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