Cindy Mu is a junior at Illinois, double majoring in chemistry and molecular & cellular Biology

During her junior year at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA), Cindy Mu traveled from Aurora, Illinois to Northwestern University every Wednesday to perform Parkinson’s Disease research. In a position normally reserved for graduate students, Cindy was a formative member of Prof. Jones Parker’s research group while helping to start the new lab. While performing behavioral and surgical studies in mouse models initially pushed Cindy out of her comfort zone, she still works in the same lab today during her summer breaks and enjoys the highly collaborative and fast-paced research environment. 

With such a unique opportunity to dive into scientific research in high school, on top of taking college-level courses such as organic chemistry, biochemistry, and cancer biology, Cindy began to think about her values and the goals of her education. “Before transferring to IMSA, I didn’t think about the integral role of education in my life, but saw it as something that is just required,” says Cindy. “Going to IMSA opened doors and encouraged me to think about my education in a broader sense. I grew to love learning and challenging myself, and I understood education is something you carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Now a junior pre-medical honors student at Illinois, double majoring in chemistry and molecular & cellular biology with a minor in creative writing, Cindy continues to challenge herself to find meaning in her education and apply it in the future. This motivated her decision to join the Cancer Scholars Program (CSP) with the Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL). “I think it’s really cool that we are educating others about cancer, while also navigating how to perform and discuss cancer research ourselves. We have even done a project where we made lesson plans to teach middle schoolers about cancer,” explains Cindy. 

Looking forward to a future career in medicine, Cindy is passionate about addressing health disparities and advocating for healthcare accessibility. She reflects, “My parents were the first of my entire family to go to college and were able to immigrate to the United States. They both pursued their master’s degrees in engineering, which is really inspiring and makes me appreciate these opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have without my parents and grandparents.” 

Cindy continues, “I lived in China for a short time and saw my grandparent’s house in the village where my dad grew up. I was young, but old enough to recognize the cultural differences in the societal structures and medical systems in China and the United States. My grandmother lived in poverty as a child and never received medical care for her ailments, which led to chronic illness. So, it’s very personal for me to use the opportunities that the United States offers to help make a difference by eliminating health disparities.” 

Cindy has taken full advantage of the opportunities on campus to enrich her college education and fulfill her personal goals to help alleviate healthcare disparities. Her free time is filled by training dogs with the Illini Service Dogs group for people in the community, working as an emergency medical technician in the Illini Emergency Medical Service, and participating in a cancer health disparity initiative with the CCIL’s Asst. Director of Education Marci Pool. “Right now, I’m working with Prof. Pool on a CCIL pilot program in collaboration with Plaksha University in India where they are doing their own grand challenge to address health disparities. We’re investigating ways to increase treatment accessibility for patients. We are currently recruiting people for the study and hoping to involve more CCIL students in the research project,” remarks Cindy. As she gears up to apply to medical school, Cindy reflects on her time as a cancer scholar. She says, “It’s really cool how the CCIL is involving the public. That’s something I want to be a part of—to go out into the community and make an impact. I think that we as cancer scholars represent the mission of the CCIL by trying to inspire people to prioritize cancer research in medicine.”

Editor’s note:

This story was written by Katie Brady, CCIL Communications Team