Evyn Lee on chemistry, physics, and the formula for success
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
Tell us about your higher education:
I graduated from Appalachian State University in December 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Physics, and a minor in chemistry, magna cum laude. I am currently a masters student at Appalachian State in engineering physics, but I will be transferring to NC State University next semester to be a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science and Engineering. I’m excited to enter a doctorate program and a field of study that combines both chemistry and physics. I’m also excited to be closer to where I grew up, Cary, North Carolina.
Why did you choose physics?
I actually entered college as a pre-med, majoring in chemistry. Truthfully, I had been dreading taking analytical physics. All my life, I thought a surgeon was the pinnacle of success and intelligence. I had heard that analytical physics was the GPA dropper for pre-meds, and that was not going to work with my plan of obtaining a 4.0. I went to my 9AM physics class for a day, and immediately switched into 10AM honors physics, just to get more sleep; after all, I needed to focus on my “real” premed classes. However, in the honors section, instead of being surrounded by people who dreaded the subject, people who had a desire to further their physics understanding surrounded me. Not only were my peers influential, but also my professor radiated her passion for physics through her lectures. I found myself looking forward to physics lecture. I began to realize that I had held onto my desire to pursue medicine for so long because of the status I thought it represented.
I actually attribute that silly reasoning for switching physics section to a lot of my successes and experiences. Switching to this class, I met Dr. Burris, who became my research advisor. Research changed my life forever, and made me realize what I love about science is the experimental process.
Can you elaborate on the research aspect of your field?
In my time at Appalachian State, I researched with the Biophysics and Optical Sciences Research Facility (BiyOSeF) with Dr. Jennifer Burris and Dr. Brooke Hester, working specifically on the instrumentation of the Raman-Tweezers Apparatus. My responsibilities in our research group consisted of optical alignment of the Raman-Tweezers system. Research unleashed a new level of curiosity in me that I had not realized existed. I liked the feeling of contributing to a project that had a goal bigger than myself. My time in research taught me how to think critically, problem solve, communicate effectively with my peers, work with a team, and much more than just the technical details of Raman-Tweezers Spectroscopy. It also taught me that I wanted to pursue research further. Some of my best times at Appalachian State were during the summer, where I was able to focus purely on my research.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Graduating college with honors is one of my proudest accomplishments, because for me, it meant so more than just a degree. I self-financed all of my education. I took out a lot of loans, which I view as an investment. But, that still didn’t cover it. I worked my first two years at a doctors office, about 20 hours a week. Working twenty hours a week while being a full time student was really hard. My days my sophomore year generally went class from 9AM or 10AM to 2PM, work from 3PM to 9PM, then homework from 10PM until whenever I finished it. Some nights, I was up until 5AM. Although, I never actually pulled an all-nighter! I don’t think I’m actually capable of staying up all night. But, by managing my time well, I was able to finish my homework in the late parts of the night. It all changed though when Dr. Burris offered me a research position in her lab, after I had decided to be a physics major. This was a research position in which I could find grants to fund me. My first summer, she had found a grant for me, and that is when I realized I was in the right field. The following summer, I was awarded an NC Space Grant for summer research. From these grants, and being a physics TA, I’ve been able to finance my education and expenses.
For me, though, my degree wasn’t just successfully going to class and jumping through the required hoops. It wasn’t about getting all good grades. My struggles in college were to be able to actually be in college, and not have to leave because of finances. I’m proud of my degree because I made it, and I stayed determined even at 4AM.
What motivates you?
This will sound cheesy, but what motivates me is to be the best I can be. My parents divorced when I was a little girl, and my father was absent in my life. Luckily, my mother took over and was very present. I was able to have positive role models in my life, such as my mother. My mother worked so hard to support my sister and I when we were younger. As a single mom, she worked two jobs and always sacrificed for us. Because of her sacrifice, I want to be the best I can be. My success is attributed to my mother supporting me so much as a little girl, and making sure I was safe, well fed, and in a positive environment. Because of her, am where I am today. And, I will always appreciate what she did for us.
What would you say to students considering pursuing degrees in the sciences?
Overall, I would say that it’s a lot of hard work, but it is worth it. Anyone is capable of achieving in the sciences, so long as your determined. Don’t let others bring you down. Don’t let failure bring you down. There were so many moments in college where I had felt defeated after failing a physics exam, or had spent hours and hours in lab without results. But, these failures are all apart of the learning process. You learn more about yourself, and where your strong suites and short comings lie. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or who you are, because in the sciences success is directly correlated with motivation.