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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Sin Yi Kong, Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences

Sin Yi Kong, Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences

Where is your hometown?
I was born in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia and lived there for 17 years.

What is your educational background?
After completing high school in Malaysia, I briefly attended junior college in Singapore, then pursued my bachelor of science degree in biochemistry at the University of Chicago from 2005 to 2009. I enrolled in the Driskill Graduate Program at Northwestern University after graduating from the University of Chicago.

On what does your research focus?
One of the focuses of my thesis lab, the Deyu Fang lab, is to understand how epigenetic regulators modulate the immune response. The NAD+-dependent histone deacetylase Sirtuin 1 (Sirt1) in particular has been shown to suppress T cell and macrophage activation by deacetylating and turning off key transcription factors in the inflammatory pathway. Continuing in this line of study, my project is to study how an endogenous suppressor of Sirt1, Deleted in Breast Cancer 1 (DBC1), regulates the immune response through Sirt1-dependent and independent pathways. I rely on a mouse model with a systemic deletion of the DBC1 gene for most of my experiments. I am interested in investigating the signaling events involving DBC1 and Sirt1 in B cell activation, and the physiological consequence of the disruption of this gene in the context of the immune response.

What attracted you to the Driskill Graduate Program (DGP)?
When I decided to pursue a doctorate degree in the life sciences, I was attracted to basic science research; at the same time I wanted to be able to interact and learn from scientists with more clinical and translational research backgrounds. I felt that the DGP program has a good mix of basic science and clinical research communities. I am interested in a broad range of topics, especially in interdisciplinary research such as linking inflammation and cancer; the DGP umbrella program allowed me to explore different fields and customize my learning experience according to my interests. The campus being in the center of downtown Chicago is also a big bonus.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?
Seeing my first paper published last year. I was extremely fortunate that a project I initiated during my rotation in the Fang lab developed smoothly and was ready for publication shortly after I joined the lab. As a student in research, there are so many opportunities for self-doubt; seeing a project “finished” and in publication was definitely satisfying and reassuring that I am on the right track.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?
Most of the faculty members whom I have interacted with have all been very sincere in providing advice and mentorship. During my lab rotations as well as other interactions, the faculty members I have talked with seem genuinely excited about their research, and are keen to advise me on various aspects of my career. 

What do you do in your free time?
When I get the time, I just like to relax at home or hang out with friends. I am also on a quest to find the best ramen place in Chicago.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan to complete a postdoc and hopefully attain a tenure track position in research. I am particularly interested in the role of inflammation in the promotion of cancer. In the far future, I would also like to collaborate or return to South East Asia to contribute to the higher education and research community there.