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Tari Tan smiling in front of a window

Meet a Science Grad: Tari Tan

By College of Science

The following interview is part of a series the College of Science conducted with some of our alumni. While their experiences and career paths vary widely, their passion for science and love for the College and OSU tie them together. 

Tari Tan

Major: Biochemistry and Biophysics
Additional Education: Ph.D. in Neurobiology, Harvard University
Occupation: Director of Educational Programming for Neurobiology & the Ph.D. Program in Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School

Why did you choose to study at OSU?

I lived in Oregon and decided to go to OSU in part because I loved the OSU Honors College. In terms of major, I honestly only barely knew what biochemistry and biophysics were, but I wanted a science major that gave me "as much science as possible." That seemed to fit the bill (and I wasn't disappointed!).

What led you to choose your major and career path?

I chose my major because I wanted as much science as possible, and because I like a challenge. After deciding that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience as a result of my love for research, teaching and the field, I made another critical career decision after graduate school to pursue a career focused on neuroscience education/teaching, which is my passion above all else.

How did the College of Science prepare you for your future career?

My experience in the College of Science gave me all of the tools that I needed for the next steps in my career: I received excellent advising and mentorship in the biochemistry department, I got the opportunity to participate in research in a very meaningful way throughout my undergraduate career, I was able to gain teaching experience by serving as an undergraduate teaching assistant, and I acquired a solid foundation in the biological and physical sciences that was critical for my graduate training in neuroscience.

Describe your career? How are you making a difference?

I love my job. In my current position I design curricula for and teach in our Ph.D. Program for Neuroscience and am constantly creating new resources to strengthen the training of our budding neuroscientists. I am actively involved in recruitment efforts and programs to make our graduate program a diverse and inclusive training environment. I am also very committed to undergraduate education and so I teach undergraduate neuroscience courses both at Harvard College and another local school, Emmanuel College.

I have an incredibly fulfilling job because I am able to educate and mentor students at different stages of their careers and can help them achieve their goals, just as my excellent mentors at OSU did for me.

What might people be surprised to learn about your profession?

Probably that it exists! Lots of students (including me for most of my undergrad career) don't know about graduate school and the large number of careers that you can have with a Ph.D. Also, students who may be turned off from pursuing a Ph.D. because they don't see themselves running a research lab should rest assured that that's not the only path one can take!

How were you involved in the OSU community?

I did lots of things at OSU, though I'm probably proudest of founding and serving as President of Sigma Delta Omega (SDO), the science sorority. I participated in research all four years at OSU, first in a psychology lab, then in a molecular biology lab, and then (for most of my undergraduate career) in Dr. Fred Stormshak's lab in animal sciences studying the biological basis of behavior. That was what inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. I was also involved in Mortar Board, Biochemistry & Biophysics Club, and probably others that I'm forgetting at the moment.

What is one favorite College of Science memory?

Oh, there are lots to choose from. ... I'll give two: The first was when I performed in Mock Rock with SDO for our sorority's inaugural appearance. We danced to "She Blinded me With Science" in lab coats and crazy-scientist hair. It was a lot of fun.

The second memory was the fundraiser for the Biochemistry and Biophysics club my senior year, in which my professor and close friend, Kevin Ahern, and I (along with a few others) volunteered to have pies thrown in our faces by the winners of the fundraiser raffle. Well, Kevin and I were so competitive that we both had the idea of buying lots of raffle tickets so that we could be the ones to throw pies at each other. We both got the opportunity to do so and I have a great photo of us simultaneously pie-ing each other!

Was there a particular professor or advisor who made an impact in your undergraduate career?

I can't choose just one: Drs. Kevin Ahern and Indira Rajagopal in Biochemistry and Biophysics and Dr. Fred Stormshak ("Stormy", my research advisor) were incredibly instrumental in my undergraduate success and career trajectory. I remain close friends with all of them to this day.

What did you do for fun to de-stress from schoolwork?

Hanging out with friends through SDO or OSU clubs was a lot of fun, and my senior year I spent a LOT of time hanging out at Bombs Away with Kevin and Indira and other students from BB!

If you could give a future College of Science student advice, what would it be?

Take classes that interest you (even if outside of your major) and learn about other career options! I entered OSU as a pre-med (and was in fact planning to study medicine until early in my senior year). I didn't know what grad school was or what a career path for a Ph.D. looked like. However, I was very fortunate that everything came together for me when I 1) got introduced to neuroscience through coursework I had chosen to pursue for a minor in psychology, and 2) was lucky to have incredible mentors who exposed me to teaching, research, and the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D. instead of medical school. Many years later I am 100% sure that I made the right decision to switch trajectories in my senior year!

Read more stories about: alumni and friends, biochemistry & biophysics