Spring 2023 grad: Justin Moua learns to be proud of himself

Justin Moua, who grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, will be graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a certificate in health and humanities. He was selected to be the CALS flag bearer at the UW–Madison commencement ceremony. In this Q&A, Moua talks about his experiences in student organizations, an internship and a lab – plus his journey to embrace self-pride.

Why did you choose your major?
The complexity of choosing my major challenged me. I had a big passion for nutritional sciences in high school so I believed nutritional science/dietetics would suffice. That is until I joined my high school’s chapter of HOSA. Through HOSA I gained a deeper passion for patient care and the future roles of healthcare. With my new light on medicine, I ultimately centered around biochemistry as it would enable my love for metabolites (carbs, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids), but also engage my budding interest in chemistry beyond AP chemistry.

There are three tenets of Biochemistry that I have learned throughout my academic career here at the University of Wisconsin. 1. Interpretation and communication. Essentially the ability to understand biological and biochemical pathways and also relay the information back to a peer or apply the skill through lab work. 2. Collaboration and engagement. I learned quickly the importance of scientific collaboration within the lab, including with peers, teaching assistants, or professors on topics I struggled with. 3. Resilience and kindness. Both of these ideas honestly felt like contradictions to me until I realized how much these emotions are coupled. Throughout this degree, I had to be vigilant [to avoid] low grades in pursuit of medical school and many times find myself well awake past midnight. These “study” sessions did not only brutally challenge me physically but mentally strained my thoughts about STEM. However, the constant reminder of my intellectual resilience highlighting my self-efficacy bore a sense of kindness and appreciation for the work I committed and continue to put out into the world.

What other activities were you involved in?
I am involved in a few organizations, an internship, and a lab. I am the Admitted Students Chair for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ Ambassadors Program. I work to primarily encourage and engage prospective students and admitted students to come to CALS and pursue a wonderful degree here. I collaborate with my colleagues on what is the best way to engage students and how should we best communicate with them on topics of interest such as majors and research/outreach. I am also on the executive board of the UW chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). Through MANRRS have gained the knowledge and skills to be an effective networker making sure I connect and get LinkedIn with everyone I meet during conferences and meetings and being sure to thank professionals in the workforce. Challengingly, I learned how being a leader requires delegation of tasks. Being someone who always does everything themselves taught me the value of how amazing my team is. They picked up where I left things off as being a Resident Assistant required mandatory weekly staff meetings. Lastly, I completed an internship at the Medical College of Wisconsin where I gained first-hand knowledge of cancer research and shadowed many types of physicians. Through the internship, I conducted research in drug development on prostate cancer cells.

What are your future academic and/or career plans?
My short-term goal is to take a gap year or two and save money for graduate school and medical school. Long-term I am looking to attend graduate school for my Master’s in Public Health and then eventually become a physician. I am currently unsure what type of physician but I am leading towards the side of obstetrics and gynecology.

What were the most meaningful college experiences you had?
Two experiences that come to mind revolve around validation and commitment. Working for the CALS Office of Academic Affairs I gained insight into working with students and faculty/staff. Academic Affairs fostered my networking abilities to comfortably talk to people and make genuine connections. I have had the privilege of working with so many kind, intelligent, and charismatic individuals who all want the best for students at CALS. I have committed two and a half years with CALS Academic Affairs and will be deeply sad about my departure. However, I know that my connections will continue to be strong and I look forward to seeing where everyone goes.

When you think about your time here as student, what are you proud of?
Proud means to show pride. Pride means to hold oneself in high regard. So what do I pride myself in? I grew up not being a very proud and prideful person. Being taught to stay humble and passive always took the forefront. Yet, the only way for me to put myself out there is to be prideful and proud. Without the courage of networking, I would not be able to cold-email professors and ask for letters of recommendation. Had I not had people who supported me all the way, sponsors and mentors, would I have had such a successful career? And so I come to the people yet again. The people who are there for me, in the good the bad the in-betweens, to those who I have lost and have yet to meet, I am proud of you all for you all make me proud in myself.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with CALS students?
One big piece of advice I want to share with CALS students is, to be honest with yourself. Find what it is you value and care about and similar people will follow and gravitate toward you. Never forget how amazing you are because you – just like me – got into CALS!

Did you participate in the CALS QuickStart program?
I did indeed participate in the CALS QuickStart Program for the 2019 cohort. I enjoyed the entire program jumpstarting my academic career here at UW–Madison.