Dr. Julie Nguyen’s denim blue overalls stood out as she walked through the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital. In an environment filled with doctors and clinical students dressed in scrubs, her attire is not the only thing that sets her apart at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
As a visiting research specialist, Dr. Nguyen plays an outsized role in helping the busy clinicians in the hospital find ways to incorporate research into their schedules. To the public and even many in the college, however, her efforts are hidden from view.
“A lot of times they think I’m a visitor,” she said with a laugh. “‘They ask, ‘Are you lost?’ No, I work here!”
Dr. Nguyen has served as the manager of the shared laboratory at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital since November 2019. Clinical faculty and staff utilize the shared laboratory to complete research at an affordable cost.
‘Every Day Is Different’
An expert in organization and time management, Dr. Nguyen works to ensure that everyone has time, space, and equipment to further their studies. After previously working in the Plant Genomics and Molecular Biology laboratory in the College of Liberal Arts and Science, Dr. Nguyen said she loves the opportunity the shared space brings to the College of Veterinary Medicine.
It gives me so much joy and I feel so privileged to work with them and see the entire process unfold. It is really rewarding, and I have so much fun doing it.Dr. Julie Nguyen
“Instead of using their startup money on different lab equipment, [clinical faculty members] can just use the shared equipment and save that money for their actual research,” said Dr. Nguyen.
In addition to her role as the manager of the shared laboratory, Dr. Nguyen is also available for hire by faculty members to assist on research projects. She has a busy schedule often set up months in advance, featuring numerous types of research. Every day is different, she said.
Dr. Nguyen says her time working on various projects at the College of Veterinary Medicine reignited her love for biology and research. She shared that the unique position has allowed her to explore all her interests.
Although she may not appear front and center, Dr. Nguyen helped the campus gain national recognition through the Freezer Challenge. In 2021 the University of Illinois was awarded the “Winners Streak Award” after winning the “Academic Organization” award four years in a row. Under Dr. Nguyen’s supervision the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s shared laboratory placed fourth on campus for its energy efficiency.
The international challenge, run by My Green Lab and the Institute for Sustainable Laboratories, recognizes institutions for saving energy when storing freezer samples. It is estimated the University of Illinois has saved over 300,000 kWh over the four-year span.
In addition, Dr. Nguyen initiated a pipette tip box recycling program at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Lois Hoyer, a professor of pathobiology who served as the college’s associate dean for research and advanced studies when Dr. Nguyen’s role was created, credits Dr. Nguyen with having a tremendous impact on the college’s clinical research mission.
“I would describe Dr. Nguyen’s contributions as the essential foundation for many research efforts. Few people could be as effective as Dr. Nguyen is in the role of shared laboratory support. She makes a difficult job look easy!” said Dr. Hoyer.
Dr. Nguyen says her greatest joy comes from supporting those around her.
“I don’t like the spotlight. I would prefer helping, supporting from the back, and rooting for them,” she said. “It gives me so much joy and I feel so privileged to work with them and see the entire process unfold. It is really rewarding, and I have so much fun doing it.”
By Haley Bickelhaupt