Student Profile: Donna Li
Where are you from? Why Madison and the Cancer Biology program?
I am originally from East Los Angeles, California and chose to come to Madison to escape the yearly wildfires and oppressive traffic—but I also knew that I would be happy here and grow as a scientist. I applied to the Cancer Biology program because of the unique mix of virology and cancer research but eventually ended up in immunology. During my interview, I really enjoyed meeting the people and learning about the science. I have been here two years now, and I could not be happier with my choice!
What is your favorite place/activity when you need to de-stress?
Recently, one of my favorite activities to de-stress is to refurbish furniture and items that I have found at local thrift stores and Facebook marketplace. I find it very satisfying to see how a new coat of paint changes a piece of furniture, and it has been wonderful way to flex my creativity. For someone moving to Madison on a tighter budget, I recommend going to stores like Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity Restore, and St. Vincent De Paul. I have been able to find some great pieces.
You were 6 months into the program when the lockdown was put in place. What was your PI and lab’s response?
My PI’s response was to prioritize safety, so almost all of us remained at home reading and studying scientific papers. We had weekly lab meetings and happy hours to stay connected. The happy hours were fun and a great way for us to get to know each other better. While restrictions were gradually removed, we continued to have virtual happy hours during the holidays as most of us could not go home to be with our families.
What is your new norm? How have you been coping with classes and trying to do in-person research?
My new norm is spending mornings in the laboratory. Virtual classes have been great because I can continue doing my experiments while attending lecture (with Bluetooth headphones). As far as coping strategies, having a creative outlet has kept me sane during the pandemic. I often feel that I should have progressed further in my research by now, but I just remind myself that I am still learning and adapting.
Any advice for incoming students, especially under these new circumstances?
It is such a weird time, and the future is so uncertain but at least we are all going through this chaos together. It must be daunting and scary for incoming students to move to a new city without their support system. I highly encourage new students to reach out to any of us in the Cancer Bio program if you ever need help or advice. Most of us understand how tough things can be, and I know that everyone here is kind enough to be willing to help.