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Zijie Zhang Builds Upon Passion for Research and Pharmacy in KGI’s Pre-Pharmacy Enrichment Program

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)’s Pre-Pharmacy Enrichment Program (PrEP) introduces participants to the wealth of career pathways within the pharmacy profession. It provides opportunities to delve into research presentations, problem-based learning, and health information technology. Zijie Zhang, who is graduating this spring with a bachelor’s in Biochemistry from California State Polytechnic University Pomona and was accepted to all 11 of the Doctor of Pharmacy programs she applied to (including KGI), further built upon her passion for research and pharmacy during KGI’s summer 2020 PrEP.

Zhang, a NSF SPIRES Scholar and Ronald E. McNair Fellow, has conducted extensive research to synthesize nickel nitrosyl complexes. The primary purpose of her research is to find ways to mitigate nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that causes extensive damage to the ozone layer.

Her numerous activities include serving as vice president and treasurer of the Modern Empowerment of Women Scientists Club and historian for the CPP Pre-Pharmacy Society. She has also volunteered as a Donor Ambassador for the American Red Cross and an Achieve Scholars Peer Mentor, helping younger students master scholarly research.

For the past two years, Zhang has worked as a clerk for the West Covina Pharmacy, and in the summer of 2020, she performed COVID-19 testing as a Clinical Laboratory Assistant II. Thus, PrEP offered the perfect intersection for Zhang’s research and pharmaceutical skills.

Zhang’s first introduction to KGI was the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program, which she attended in the summer of 2019. This program exposed her to the rigors of graduate-level research. At the same time, the Drug Discovery project gave her experience specifically in drug discovery, development, and pipeline management through team-based research projects.

In PrEP, Zhang gained more research experience while also delving into the various pharmacy pathways presented in a workshop by Professor of Practice Dr. Daniel Kudo. Here she learned about all the different environments that pharmacists could be employed in, such as hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories, universities, and the many roles that pharmacists can potentially play, including community pharmacist, ambulatory care pharmacist, mental health pharmacist, and clinical trials coordinator.

“One of the key factors that prospective pharmacy students should consider goes beyond the courses that are taught,” Kudo said. “Among the key factors are ways in which students might get guidance related to identifying their passion and finding the career paths that are consistent with it. KGI faculty members help to point interested students toward careers that can help them fulfill life goals.”

For Zhang, Kudo’s workshop turned out to be an eye-opening experience.

“A lot of the information that Dr. Kudo mentioned regarding roles and responsibilities for pharmacists was stuff that I didn’t even know was possible.”

“For example, I hadn’t known that a pharmacist could conduct research in the pharmaceutical industry before participating in PrEP. You go to a drugstore and communicate what you need to the pharmacist, but I never realized that pharmacists also performed data analysis and examinations,” said Zhang.

Zhang also enjoyed Associate Professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences Dr. Derick Han‘s presentation on medicinal chemistry. Most of all, she appreciated the team-based learning aspect of PrEP.

“During the quarantine, it’s pretty hard to socialize and meet people because you don’t physically attend school, but in this program, I got to know the other participants well,” Zhang said. “It helped that they had the same career pathway as me, so we had lots to talk about.”