Choosing My Major & Finding My Way

Dear Prospective Bruin,

Congratulations on your admission to UCLA! My name is Vincent Leong and I’m a fourth-year Physiological Science major from Arcadia, CA. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve been granted here at UCLA and it feels like it was just yesterday when I stepped onto this campus as an eager freshman.

Coming into college, I was incredibly excited, nervous, and indecisive on what I really wanted to do. Committing 4 years to a completely new environment, away from friends and family I’ve spent the better half of my life with was frightening to me. Luckily, I really broke down the process into smaller steps starting with my major. I chose to come in as a Chemistry major largely due to my adoration for AP Chemistry in high school (shoutout to Ms. Mynster from Arcadia High School) and my fascination with problem solving. I knew this major was interesting but knew it conflicted with my larger goal of pursuing a career in medicine. Without much of a life-science oriented curriculum, I decided to switch to Biochemistry during freshman orientation (yes, I switched majors before the 1st day of school). This major covered a lot of medical school prerequisites and contained a fascinating curriculum centered around molecular pathways in and outside our body.

In my first quarter of my freshman year, I took Introduction to Psychology (Psych 10), General Chemistry (Chem 14A), and Integration & Infinite Series (Math 31B). In all of these courses, I was fortunate enough to have amazing professors as well as a myriad of student learning assistants that allowed me to excel in all of these classes. In my head, I thought to myself, “Wow, who said college is hard? This is a cake-walk!” Fast forward to the winter quarter of that year and I soon regretted ever thinking such thoughts. The class that really kicked my butt was multivariable calculus (Math 32A). I would be studying 3-5 hours every day & attend the professor’s office hours whenever she offered them. No matter how many times I thought I understood the concepts, I would just perform terribly on exams. However, after each midterm, I remained persistent in reaching out for help. Whether it was my roommate, friends in the class, teaching assistant, or the professor, I would ask a handful of questions to make sure I understood every little detail. Although I felt extremely discouraged after every low mark I received on the exam, it was the help of UCLA’s inclusive and uplifting community of students/teachers that helped me succeed. Ever since that class, I not only realized that I never wanted to take another math class again but I also knew I was in the perfect environment that would foster collaborative learning. It was this sense of a collaborative environment that eventually pushed me towards becoming a Organic Chemistry learning assistant in the Learning Assistants Program and tutor under the Academic Advancement Program (AAP).

After taking more and more classes as the quarters went by, I quickly got adjusted to how fast the quarter system went and how to adequately prepare for any class I encountered. I cultivated a strict study schedule using Google Calendar religiously and became more efficient with my study techniques using active recall techniques. As I adjusted to classes more easily, I dabbled more in outside interests. During the early stages of the pandemic, I was allowed to conduct virtual research regarding the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease led by my wonderful mentors, Dr. Xianghong Arakaki & Dr. Alfred Fonteh. This project broadened my interest in how medicine and research go hand-in-hand in dismantling some of the world’s most insurmountable issues. I’m grateful to be still working with these wonderful mentors to this day and it is thanks to them that I’ve had the opportunity to present my findings at UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Week & other distinguished research symposiums. By diving deeper into more extracurricular interests, I further solidified my interest in medicine under the mentorship of Dr. Candace Gragnani & Dr. Miriam Schwartz under the SCOPE Pathways For Students in Health Professions (PSHP) program. As I studied more physiological mechanisms & disease conditions, I decided to switch from Biochemistry to Physiological Science at the start of my 3rd year.

As I’m about to wrap up my 4 years here at UCLA in a couple of weeks, it is amazing what opportunities I have been exposed to in and outside of class. Through my major, I’ve been able to talk one-on-one with some of the nation’s leaders in cutting edge research, received an hour-long lecture from Chancellor Block on our body’s circadian rhythms, touched a brain’s cranial nerves, and much more. While I have so much left to learn/accomplish after I graduate, I am confident that UCLA has given me a community that has only bolstered my academic interests/goals. My academic experience has been full of ups and downs but it was the culmination of help from peers, friends, family, and professors that have guided me every step of the way to overcome any obstacle I faced.

As you all are starting off your academic journey here at UCLA, please understand that it’s ok to go through a rollercoaster of emotions/experiences/decisions similar to what I went through. It will all work out in the end. Trust me. I have faith all of you will excel! Congratulations & feel free to reach out if you need any help whatsoever.



Photo of Vincent on campus wearing a suit and tie.