A Tale of Two PhDs


Who are we?




Phuong: I am a first year PhD student in the Molecular Engineering program at the University of Washington. I got my bachelors in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford and my masters from UW before entering a PhD program. My research interest is in designing biomaterial platforms for therapeutics. I draw a lot of inspiration from the human body and nature’s self-regulating processes. As an engineer, to design and manipulate natural processes is such an interesting (albeit challenging) problem! There are still so many mysteries surrounding how our own bodies work, and it’s exciting to learn new things about how technology is used to probe those questions. I’ve led a pretty non-conventional path to get to where I am today. I spent the majority of my undergrad career thinking I would go to med school….until I realized that it actually wasn’t what I wanted to do. I took a gap year and explored the medical device industry before I even considered going into academia. It has been quite a journey to get to where I am….and I’m excited to share with you the things I’ve learned and the new things that I will continue to learn about myself and biomaterials on this new journey.

Ayumi: I am a first year student in the Molecular Engineering PhD program at the University of Washington. I got my bachelor’s in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Arizona. My life-long love of microbiology began when I watched Outbreak as a kid. It only grew when, in undergrad, my mother became immunocompromised due to a kidney transplant. The anti-rejection medications dampen her immune system, leaving her exposed to a number of everyday pathogens. I had the opportunity to act as her post-transplant caretaker and became uniquely acquainted with the many microbes that lurk on every surface. Lysol wipes and handsanitizer have become my best friend! This experience inspired me to pursue research on improving treatments in infectious disease. My research focuses on improving drug delivery in malaria using a polymer prodrug. I had an odd journey into engineering, in that prior to this past year I have had no formal training in engineering. So I am incredibly excited to share what this experience has been like!


What is a Tale of Two PhDs?

Phuong: We are PhD students. There are two of us. We’re starting a blog to talk about our tales of science and science-adjacent things….so a Tale of Two PhDs! We’re excited to share with you our experiences in grad school, research, classes, and life in general.

Ayumi: This is a blog about all things science and science-adjacent. We want to talk about the ins and outs of research, classes, and science communication. We love STEM and want to share that love! But we also want to talk about lifestyle, relationships, budgeting, mental health, and more. Because scientists are complex humans just like everyone else. We don’t live in the lab, despite what the people in your program would have you believe ;)


Why start the blog?

Phuong: I’ve always wanted to record my experiences and share with others anything that I’ve found helpful throughout the years. As a first generation student, I dove into STEM, academia, and research head-first, and there were so many times when I felt extremely anxious and overwhelmed. I didn’t know who to talk to and only wish that I had something like this blog to get answers from students like me. I asked Ayumi to help blog with me, and I’m SO excited to document our journey and friendship throughout the years. I hope this blog can help anyone else struggling and asking the same questions I asked (or even discover things that they never knew they had questions about!). We welcome anyone in STEM or is interested in STEM. We’re all students at one point or another, let’s learn from each other :)

Ayumi: When Phuong asked me to join her in starting a blog, I didn’t hesitate to say “YAS!”. If only to document the ups and downs that we have been experiencing, and to possibly be a source of information that I wish I had. I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked up questions about grad school that Quora and r/gradschool couldn’t answer. I am in no way an expert in being a grad student, and there are many times when I feel like I’m not doing it right. But I hope this blog can help anyone who feels lost in STEM, who has found themselves in STEM, or who loves someone in STEM.


What is a helicutie?

Helicutie = Helix + Cutie

Ayumi and Phuong are Double Helicuties <3

Anyone who likes science and reads this blog is a Helicutie. So, welcome, Helicuties!


What about the podcast?

Ayumi: Are you even friends if you don’t have a podcast together? Starting a blog is a huge undertaking, so we are going to focus on that for now. We hope to get a podcast going soon!

Phuong: Immediately after we agreed on working on the blog together, we knew that we wanted to start a podcast to share more stories from other people! Please send in any suggestions of topics you’d like to hear about.