Acadia alum, Kayoung Heo, discusses her research journey and Acadia’s impact post-graduation

Portrait of Acadia alumna Kayoung Heo
Kayoung's T-shirt designs feature successful women in science.

Acadia alum, Kayoung Heo, graduated from Acadia last year with an Honours in Biology. As a student, she was the recipient of the Arthur Irving Environmental Science Scholarship in 2016 which allowed her to fully focus on her research. Her Honours Thesis explores the effects of bisphenol-A and folic acid on growth, reproductive development and DNA methylation in snapdragons. Since graduation, Kayoung has become a successful and inspiring researcher and alum.

In 2017 and 2018, Kayoung attended the Canada-Korea Conference, an interdisciplinary conference that serves as a platform to discuss topics and challenges in technology and science. Kayoung won best undergraduate student presentation both years. This past May, her manuscript, based on her Honours Thesis, was approved for publication in the Canadian Journal of Botany.

When discussing her time at Acadia, Kayoung remembers that as prospective student, she was interested in the Biology program because she has always wanted to become a doctor. She says she was attracted to Acadia’s small-size classes and unique community spirit. However, when it came to the final decision, she took into consideration a recommendation from one of her mentors, a fellow Acadia alum, who believed Acadia was the perfect fit for her.

Recounting her time at Acadia, Kayoung agrees Acadia was the perfect fit, but also recognizes her student experience was an evolving journey. In her first year, Kayoung reached out to one of her Biology professors to ask for research opportunities and was encouraged to get involved in environmental science research, where she became involved in the seedbank research program. Soon after, she was advised to apply for the Arthur Irving Environmental Science Scholarship. Her research process was somewhat unexpected but she was challenged to make decisions with an open mind and to step out of her comfort zone.

“Had I passed up the opportunity because it wasn’t medically-oriented research, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. What started out as a serendipitous opportunity actually left a huge impact, shifting my perspective, and made me rethink who I want to be and what kind of impact I want to make in the world and the environment,” she says.

Now that she’s graduated, Kayoung says the Acadia spirit and everything she learned as a university student remains an important part of her life goals and projects.

“I feel like in a lot of what I do and what I look for, bits of Acadia are ingrained,” she says. Apart from applying to medical school, Kayoung started a small business, selling her artwork. For this project, entitled “Women in Science,” Kayoung designs T-shirts featuring ground-breaking women in science.

“Having a business for me is not solely for financial reasons but for raising awareness on certain issues in the hope of changing people’s perspectives and adding value to their lives,” she says.

“This project would not have been born if it weren’t for the Women in Science course I took in fourth year,” Kayoung adds. “This class made me become aware of the underlying issues in gender discrepancy in certain fields like physics and higher ranks in academia. I wanted to be part of social change, and creating something visual made sense because, in this way, people could actually see it and internalize it.”

As a former Acadia student, Kayoung’s advice for current students is to “be open-minded and introspective. Say yes to opportunities especially if it means getting out of your comfort zone. If you have someone you look up to, approach them. Get involved. Don’t be afraid to ask.”

Check out Kayoung's "Women in Science" business on Etsy.

Update: Since this story was published, Kayoung has published an academic paper for the first time. Visit the Canadian Journal of Botany to explore her work.

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