Hooked on science by accident, Kimberly Choi puts it to work in the global community

Quick BIO: Kimberly Choi, 23, is a research technician at Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (Seattle BioMed) and a University of Washington graduate.

“Changemakers” is our new series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at jellison@kplu.org.

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Kimberly Choi wound up testing malaria vaccines on mice quite by accident.

“I thought I was going to study Spanish literature,” Choi recalled.

But in 2006, Choi was encouraged by a high school biology teacher to participate in Seattle BioMed’s outreach program, BioQuest, which gives students a chance to do hands-on research.

“I thought that scientists were one way, and I was another,” she said. Instead, she wound up liking the work and built her education around that passion.

Now Choi works at Seattle BioMed, an organization focused on testing and developing vaccines to fight infectious diseases.

It turns out that there is a mouse-specific form of malaria, so her lab uses the rodents to try to identify “biomarkers” that show up when a mouse is infected. Identifying which biomarkers are important for triggering an immune response in mice will also help in the development of an effective vaccine for humans.

Kimberly Choi

Here’s why and how Choi got involved in global health and development:

Q: Why is “global health and the fight against poverty” an important issue for you?

“Our society has resources that can address global health issues. It feels like a responsibility as a citizen of the world to participate in global health.”

Q:  What personal experience inspired you? What idea is driving your commitment?

“I can’t say there’s one thing,” Choir replied. Her motivation goes back to her sense of obligation.

“Not everyone is going to have a strong interest in research sciences. I do feel that this is my passion, and it seems only right to use that. I feel lucky that this is something I care about, it seems only right that I put my energy towards something that helps other people.”

Q:  Do you think your generation is more attuned to global issues such as global health and the fight against poverty?

“I don’t know how to compare my generation to others. But I think a lot of people would agree that we’ve changed how we talk about these issues,” she said. With the ability of social media and the internet to connect people globally, “Third World problems feel like world problems, and maybe every once in a while they’ll feel like our own problems.”

Q: Do you think your generation will make a difference?

“We already have been making a difference. We’re not anywhere near done, this is the beginning,” she said. “We need to keep that momentum going and encourage young people to stay in touch with the rest of the world, and I think we’ll make more difference in the years to come.”

Q: How did you land a job in this field?

Choi participated in the BioQuest program at Seattle BioMed, then went on to volunteer and work part time at BioMed while studying microbiology at the UW. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she took a full-time position at the organization.

Q: If you were to advise someone on how to get a job in this field, what would you tell them?

“It really does start with taking the time to find your passion. For a lot of people that means traveling and seeing the rest of the world. You need to try things even if you don’t expect them to work out. I did this (BioQuest) program to rule it out – I didn’t expect it to work. Try new things and see new places.”

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