International Alumna Pursues PhD in Computational Chemistry.
Hanh Doan Minh Pham was just 17 years old when she left her home in Vietnam to study in the United States. Now, at age 26, the Highline College alumna is studying for her PhD in computational chemistry in Canada.
“With a passion for chemistry and math, I have become fascinated by physical chemistry as a career because it not only brings these subjects together but also fulfills my curiosity about the behavior of matter, and how a structure could be formed,” Pham said of her PhD major.
So how did Pham get to where she is today?
She strongly believed in her capabilities in spite of the challenges she faced along the way.
“I was a regular high school kid in Vietnam,” Pham recalled, noting she grew up in Quy Nhon City in the Binh Dinh province. “My life was intense with school and homework; I went to extra classes way more often than hanging out with my friends.”
But Pham wanted more.
“I wanted to explore and gain more educational/social experiences, meet more people, live independently, travel to new places and learn about different cultures,” she said.
Pham first arrived in California where she took one semester at Ribet Academy as a senior before transferring to Highline College, without her high school diploma, in winter 2014.
She struggled with the ability to explain her thoughts and being homesick.
“I definitely had certain difficulties being an international student (language barriers, culture shock, etc.), but that’s inevitable, and I see them as challenges to improve and grow myself,” Pham said.
Pham chose to transfer to Highline College for a number of reasons, including its cultural diversity.
“Not only could I find my Vietnamese community, but I also learned more about different cultures and made great new friends,” she said. “This really helped with my homesickness during my study.”
While at Highline as an international student, Pham became involved in the International Student Programs’ Welcome Team, a student group dedicated to putting on events such as Chit Chat Cafe, Conversation Pal, trips around Seattle for other international students. In addition to social activities, Pham was a Highline math tutor, GED teaching assistant and was in the Honors program. She won two International Student Programs scholarships and won Tutor of the Year for the Math Resource Center. Pham was also on the vice president’s honor roll for the two years she attended Highline.
Although she never earned her high school diploma, Pham graduated in 2016 with her Associate of Science in biology and a pre-pharmacy emphasis.
“I’m grateful and proud to be a Highline College alumna,” she said. “I’ve earned so much –– my education, inspiration, friendship, mentorship, etc., and I’ve become a better version of myself due to my time at Highline.”
Pham went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in chemistry with a minor in mathematics from the University of Utah. She now lives in Montreal, Quebec where she conducts research independently, under the supervision of a chemistry professor, while she writes her thesis for her PhD at McGill University.
“I get to learn more deeply about theoretical chemistry and its applications in explaining chemical phenomena, and developing new technology for the industry,” she said about her research. “I have a chance to develop and improve my critical thinking/time management/data analyzing skills, as well as coding, by working on my research projects.”
Pham is in her fourth year for her PhD and she expects to graduate in August or September of 2024.
Upon graduation, she plans to look for a job in computational chemistry/data analysis within the industry. Her “plan b” will be to earn her postdoctoral degree.
“Strongly believe in your capabilities of making a difference in the world,” Pham said as she reflected on advice to new college students. “ If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done … As long as you put your effort into doing something and are willing to take the first step, you’re all set to make a difference to the world in your unique ways.”