AustinAustin Nguyen, a senior majoring in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), explores his journey as a scholar in the Research in Aging through Mentorship and Practice – Undergraduate Program (RAMP-UP).

Fueled by the Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center (MHERC) and funded by the National Institute on Aging, RAMP-UP is one of several training initiatives actively addressing the underrepresentation of minority researchers and healthcare professionals. This intensive three-year summer program offers a mentored research experience for undergraduate students and is helping shape future leaders in the field.

Austin shares his academic background, research aspirations, and the invaluable experiences he gained through his mentorship with Dr. Ricardo Franco, Associate Professor Medicine - Infectious Diseases, at UAB. His story is a testament to the transformative power of mentorship and dedication.

Q1: What is the title or topic of your summer research project within the RAMP-UP program?
AN: The title of my summer research project was "Hepatitis C Virus Among Inpatients in the Direct-acting Antiviral Era: Prevalence, Linkage to Care, Treatment Disparities, and Comorbidity Burden." It centered around Hepatitis C care within the UAB health system.

Q2: How did you become interested in participating in the RAMP-UP program, and what motivated you to choose this area of research?
AN: I discovered the RAMP-UP program while browsing the UAB website. What drew me in was its unique blend of research and career-building opportunities. I’m a first generation Asian-American who, as a grade school student, accompanied my parents to doctors appointments as a translator. This experience influenced my decision to explore health disparities among minority populations. I chose my research topic because Hepatitis C is highly prevalent in Vietnam, which sparked my interest in working on this project. My goal is to contribute to lowering its occurrence in the country.

Q3: Could you provide a brief overview of your research goals or objectives within the program?
AN: My research goals were to develop a project that could have a positive impact and could bridge one of the many gaps present in healthcare in Alabama. My objectives for the program were to improve my leadership, teamwork, problem solving, communication, project planning, and create a solid base network that could open a lot of opportunities in the future. Another personal goal was to build my resume in hopes of having a competitive medical school application.

Q4: How long have you been involved in the RAMP-UP program, and how has your experience been so far?
AN: I have been in the program for 3 years and it has been a very positive experience. I feel like every week I am getting pushed to do something new and to expand my experiences.

Q5: What were your initial thoughts when you found out that you were going to be paired with your current mentor in the RAMP-UP program?
AN: I was thrilled when I learned about being paired with Dr. Franco. Though I didn't know about his specific research at the time, just knowing I could work on something that could have a positive impact on clinical care was all I needed to make me excited to work on this project.

Q6: Can you share a moment when your mentor's guidance significantly influenced your approach to your research project or academic goals?
AN: Dr. Franco has significantly influenced my research approach. I vividly recall a Zoom session in July 2022, just before the summer expo, where my nerves were on edge about presenting. Dr. Franco shared a valuable insight: "Proper preparation leads to enjoyment, and when you’re enjoying the moment, you win; and when you win, you impress others." This philosophy has since become my guiding principle. I now dedicate extensive effort to thorough preparation, allowing me to savor the rewards of my hard work, whether it be presenting or taking an exam. This shift in mindset ensures that regardless of the outcome, I find satisfaction in knowing I've given my all.

Q7: Can you reflect on the progress you've made since the beginning of the RAMP-UP program, and how your mentor has contributed to your growth and achievements?
AN: Since joining RAMP-UP, I've presented at two UAB expos, contributed to research protocols, and gained essential skills in communication, leadership, and more. I vividly recall my initial struggle with creating a poster for the expo—I was unsure of what content to include and even the appropriate font size. However, after meeting with Dr. Franco, he gave me tips and tricks on structuring the poster for readability and presentation effectiveness. Thanks to his great mentorship, I quickly gained the confidence and skills needed for my first expo, an achievement I owe entirely to his guidance and support.

Q8: What advice would you give to other mentees about building a successful mentor-mentee relationship within the RAMP-UP program?
AN: Active communication is key; don't hesitate to reach out. Additionally, go the extra mile by delving deeper into your research, taking initiative, and preparing thoroughly for meetings and presentations.

Q9: Is there anything else you'd like to share about your experience in the RAMP-UP program, your collaboration with your mentor, or any noteworthy moments that have stood out to you?
AN: One profound takeaway is that you get what you put in. This is something that our program leaders said to us at the beginning of every year, and it could not be more true. Embrace new opportunities even if they push you beyond your comfort zone. Remember that meticulous preparation leads to enjoyable moments of success, leaving a lasting impression on both you and others.

Austin's journey within the RAMP-UP program exemplifies the tremendous potential that lies within mentorship and dedicated practice. In the future, Austin plans to apply to medical school at the UAB Heersink School of Medicine where he plans to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery or physical medicine and rehabilitation residency.

The RAMP-UP program continues to empower undergraduate students like Austin to pursue their research aspirations and bridge gaps in healthcare. As we look ahead to future interviews with MHERC training scholars, we anticipate more inspiring stories of triumph and the enduring impact of mentorship on the path to excellence.

The RAMP-UP program is currently accepting applications. Interested applicants are encouraged to apply by February 1, 2024. For more information click here.