A new country, a new major, a new degree

By Cindy Weiss, CLAS Today

Junghi Kim, graduating from CLAS in 2011 with a major in mathematics-statistics, had not even taken a statistics course until her junior year.

The University Scholar, an undergraduate from Korea, was majoring in landscape architecture when a bad fall down steps convinced her that statistics was a “safer” major for her. But she had a lot of catching up to do.

As a University Scholar, she was committed to completing a major research project in her senior year. Junghi prepared for research in statistics by reading through professional papers and book chapters recommended by her statistics faculty advisers, professor Nalini Ravishanker and associate professor Jun Yan. The terminology was unfamiliar, and “it was really painful” to become familiar with the new material, she admits, but she read and reread it until she understood.

She also began taking statistics courses at the 3000 level. She had no time to take the lower level courses, she explains.

Her research project, analyzing biomedical data and comparing two models, also involved working with mathematics/statistics professor Evarist Gine.

Her advisers eased her path into a new major: “I could grow intellectually with their help.” She credits them with showing her how she could contribute to the field.

She found that she liked statistics so much that she is going to continue for a PhD. She was accepted into the biostatistics graduate program at the University of Minnesota, where she will start next fall.

Kim is an only child, and her parents remain in Korea, where she visits them on school breaks. Entering UConn as a freshman international student was a challenge, she says. “I missed the food” of her native land, she says.

Also, becoming proficient in spoken English was hard work. “I felt tired every night,” from hearing and speaking a non-native language.

“But you spread your antennae,” she says, gesturing with her fingers spread wide over her head. Learning the spoken language was something like learning statistics, it turned out.

“I had fun researching something unknown.”

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