Transforming Support into Success: Jodi Lee

Thanks to many scholarships and awards, support from UC Santa Cruz resources and faculty members, and support and love from her family, Jodi Lee is now in her first year of graduate school at UCSF —and the first in her family to pursue a Ph.D. 

Lee, who earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from UCSC in March 2022, took full advantage of everything available to her as a Banana Slug. 

“Coming into UCSC, I was selected as a Campus Merit Scholar, Honors College Scholar, and EOP student,” she says. “These resources gave me opportunities to speak with faculty as a freshman and learn about the wide range of courses offered at UCSC. I became eager to pursue a multidisciplinary path.” 

Having grown up in the Bay Area, Lee didn’t travel a large geographic distance to attend UCSC, but it has been a big, transformative journey in many ways. 

Although Lee knew she was interested in biochemistry from the beginning, her focus on bioinformatics came later. “At the end of my first year, I had gained a deep appreciation of how previous experiments built our understanding of life and the foundation in modern medicine,” she says. “However, I was intrigued by questions that remained unanswered, and eager to learn how new techniques could be leveraged to study complex biological systems.” This led to her exploration of bioinformatics. “I wanted to understand how genomic information can reveal potential mechanisms of disease. I became excited to utilize computation and statistics to study how our genotype could affect our phenotype.” 

During her last two years at UCSC, she was involved in biochemistry and bioinformatic research which was supported by a variety of donors through these awards and scholarships: Undergraduate Research in Science and Technology Award, Doug Drexler Scholarship, Merrill Student Project, Koret Undergraduate Research Scholarship, Dean’s and Chancellor’s Award, and Kenneth and Ann Thimann Scholarship. “Thanks to the financial support offered by UCSC, I was able to concurrently conduct research while taking courses. I am grateful for people’s generosity, which enabled me to apply and get accepted to graduate school.”  

Lee is attending UCSF’s Tetrad program, which encompasses Cell Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, and Developmental Biology. “I chose Tetrad because I want to pursue a Ph.D. in life sciences that offers me a wide breadth of disciplines to do my research,” she says.

Lee credits her family for where she is today. “My family has always been the backbone of my journey,” she says. “They have given me the support and opportunities to pursue my passion for scientific research. More importantly, my mother’s story of immigrating to the U.S. after fleeing the Vietnam War and living in a refugee camp has given me the courage and perseverance to be the first in my family to attain a Ph.D.” 

She originally selected UCSC for college because she was “…taken away by the beauty of the California coastline and redwood trees. By surrounding myself with nature, I knew that UCSC was the optimal place to pursue life science!” Lee is happy about her decision.

Her experiences at UCSC taught her a great deal. Lee wants to share that people should “never be shy to ask questions. My academic and research experience has taught me to follow curiosity and learn by being challenged.” Also, she adds, “Success comes from support. My growth as a student and researcher came from building relationships with peers, teaching assistants, and faculty. I have learned from others to think from different perspectives and to be creative!”

She uses this knowledge to give back to others today. “As a graduate student, I am excited to partner with K-12 teachers in schools to co-plan and co-teach investigative science lessons in classrooms.”When asked if she has any advice for current UCSC students, Lee replies, “Sit in on classes you are on the fence about. You never know what might spark your interest!”