When UW-Madison tour guide Tong Wang, a junior from New Berlin, Wisconsin, shows groups around campus, he advises prospective students—no matter their academic interests—to pursue undergraduate research.
He speaks from experience, having worked as an undergraduate researcher studying and synthesizing peptides in Professor Samuel Gellman’s organic chemistry laboratory since his freshman year.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much [in the Gellman lab]—not only on how to do things but also ways of thinking or how to be an investigator or to ask questions,” Wang said.
Graduate student Ross Cheloha mentored Wang, and Wang credits Cheloha with being instrumental in his development as a scientist.
Wang continues his research in the Gellman lab this summer thanks to a Hilldale Summer Research Award. He was also recently awarded the Department of Chemistry’s Wayland Noland Undergraduate Research Fellowship, established with support from Professor Wayland Noland (B.A. 1948), which will help his continued research in the fall.
Even before Wang set foot in a crowded organic chemistry lecture hall, he was excited about the class, thanks to the praise his friends gave the course. He credits his organic chemistry instructors Matt Bowman and Professor Tehshik Yoon for feeding his interest in the subject.
In the Gellman lab, Wang is able to directly apply what he learned in his organic chemistry classes. And he has learned one lesson in particular through his research: In the lab, things go wrong. One time, his flask shattered, spewing his reagents into an ice bath. Losing a week’s worth of work in the process, Wang and Cheloha had to decide whether to start over or to abandon the project. Faced with the dilemma, Wang remembered a technique he had learned in an organic chemistry class, which he suggested as a way to save the project.
“It’s been really cool that I’ve been able to apply something I’ve learned in the classroom and tackle an actual problem,” Wang said.
After he earns his undergraduate degree, Wang plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. Looking back over his first two years as a Badger, Wang said he’s been fortunate to have the support of his mentors, professors, and parents. He added that he’s also thankful for the opportunities UW-Madison has afforded him.
“I’ve fallen in love with this school even more because it presents all of these options,” Wang said.