Get to Know

Get to Know Taejoon Won

Dr. Taejoon Won with his family

Dr. Taejoon Won, pictured with his family, is an assistant professor of immunology in the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

When did you begin working at the College of Veterinary Medicine?
I joined as an assistant professor in Pathobiology in August 2023. Before joining, I worked as a postdoc at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan.

Describe your role at the college.
I am a researcher studying cardiac immunology. My primary role is to investigate the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases from an immunologist’s view and to develop novel prevention or treatment measures using immunotherapies. Another important role is to train the next generation of researchers and clinicians, particularly those passionate about cardiac immunology research. To ensure high-quality training, I stay updated on cutting-edge knowledge and lab techniques. Also, I actively seek funding opportunities to provide comprehensive support to my trainees.

Have you held any previous titles or responsibilities at the college?
No, I have not. This is my first position in this college.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Problem solving. I enjoy solving riddles, quizzes, and puzzles. I find joy in it. Research, to me, is a big box of challenges waiting to be addressed. I enjoy breaking down real-world problems, especially those related to cardiovascular diseases, into smaller components, designing experimental models, and testing them through logical approaches. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I usually don’t give up until I find a solution.

Complete this sentence: My most memorable day at work was…
… The first time my novel mouse model for a type of autoimmune myocarditis successfully worked. At the time, I was a second-year postdoc at Johns Hopkins University. Many people initially assumed this model couldn’t be doable, and my first couple of experiments faced setbacks. However, my mentor, Dr. Daniela Cihakova, encouraged me to keep trying it, and I finally made it. The findings from this novel model led me to the publication of a quality paper, many conference presentations, media exposure, and, eventually, my current position at this college.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Soccer is my all-time favorite. I used to play actively before. However, I haven’t played for a while due to raising two kids and a busy work schedule. Instead, I watch soccer games, following teams in the K-league and Premier League. Also, I enjoy watching soccer analytic videos and documentary films. “All or Nothing: Manchester City” has been particularly inspiring to me. There were many insights on how to build team spirit, motivate young talent, and strategize to address challenges.

What is something your co-workers may be surprised to know about you?
I think I am a good shooter. In South Korea, every young man undergoes mandatory military duty, requiring at least 18 months of service. However, as a PhD student in the field of science and engineering, I was waived from the full service but still had to attend a boot camp for a month. In the camp, I had shooting training for the first time in my life and hit a perfect score, 20 out of 20.

What is one thing on your bucket list?
I want to visit Paris again, the city of my honeymoon. Hopefully, I can make it a reality on my 20th anniversary.

Do you have a favorite restaurant or place in the Champaign/Urbana area?
There are some excellent casual restaurants serving Korean cuisine in this area including San Maru in Champaign and Bab Plus in Urbana. In my opinion, San Maru serves a little bit more authentic Korean food, but both restaurants are great.

Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?
Daily walks with my wife. After moving to Champaign this summer, we usually walk and talk in the morning and afternoon for about half an hour to an hour. There is a beautiful trail around my home to get to parks, playgrounds, and lakes. It is a hidden gem. I enjoy walking this trail with my wife and sometimes with my kids.

Do you have any pets? 
No, I don’t. However, my two daughters are eager to have one. We might consider getting one when they both become teenagers.