Academic Life

Dear Future Bruins,

First of all, congratulations on your admission to UCLA! My name is Sam Duong-Brett (she/her) and I am a third year Human Biology and Society (HBS) major and Global Health minor. When I was a senior, learning about all of the amazing resources and opportunities UCLA had to offer made picking a school easy. However, one of the aspects of UCLA that stood out to me the most was the interdisciplinary nature of my major, something I was immediately attracted to. Here at UCLA, a lot of our classes take an “interdisciplinary” approach, which basically means that we look at a topic through the lens of various subjects. As a student who intends to go into the medical field, learning about the intersections between human biology and social conditions was really important to me. Through the HBS major, I get to take classes that are oftentimes centered around how one’s social environment shapes their health on top of the various other STEM classes I have taken. So not only do I learn about the super interesting biological processes that make up our body, but I also get to learn how it can be impacted by social factors. I’m also involved with research here on campus, so stay tuned for an overview of my academic life!

One of my favorite classes I have taken for my major has been the Biotechnology and Society cluster (Cluster M71). Clusters are a year-long course that take an interdisciplinary approach to learning about a specific topic. They are heavily focused on collaborative learning, and the best part is that they are solely offered for freshmen! In this cluster, I learned a lot about genetics and emerging technology that can influence that field, such as genetic engineering and DIY biology! We also discussed some ethical questions, such as “who is able to benefit from this new technology?” and “to what extent should technology interfere with natural biological processes?” I found that this cluster course gave me a strong foundation for the discussions that I have in the core courses for the HBS major and was a really formative part of my freshman year!

Another class that I love to highlight when talking about my academic life here at UCLA is Society and Genetics 180 – Special Courses in Society and Genetics: Science, Mass Incarceration, and Accountability, a class I am currently taking. Here’s a little breakdown of what this super long class title means: 180 courses are seminars of around 60 people taught by a professor regarding a unique topic of their choice. Oftentimes, a couple different 180 courses will be offered within a specific department. This 180 course, as the title suggests, is about the intersection between science and mass incarceration. So far, we have learned about the healthcare system within prisons and how scientific research has involved incarcerated individuals. This topic has been captivating and it is such a unique class that I have been so grateful to be able to take! It has given me a better understanding of the current state of health within incarcerated people, which I believe will help me be a better healthcare provider in the future.

Finally, I would love to highlight the research I am involved in. I am involved in both basic science and clinical research! Basic science research focuses on understanding the functioning of biological processes and it usually takes place in a stereotypical “lab” (microscopes, pipettes, etc.). I am an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Stephanie Correa’s lab, which studies how estrogen affects different neuron populations! On the other hand, clinical research is focused on health and illnesses within patients. The clinical research I am involved with, under Dr. Veena Ranganath, studies therapeutics for rheumatoid arthritis. Volunteering in clinical research has given me firsthand experience with patients and a deep understanding of how clinical research is conducted. Both of these labs give me the opportunity to learn so much about physiological processes and how it impacts people’s health! Contributing to research at UCLA has been one of my most impactful experiences here, and I highly recommend getting involved if you are interested!

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my academic experience here at UCLA. I have learned so much through both my classes and extracurriculars and I have expanded my knowledge to lengths I never would have expected. If you told me 3 years ago that I would be taking such amazing classes and contributing to scientific research I would never believe you. Choosing UCLA was one of the most influential decisions of my life, and I am so happy to be where I am now. Although I will only be here for one more year, don’t forget to say “hi!” if you see me around!



Photo of Sam outside of Royce Hall wearing a black blazer.