Class of 2023: In search of a life less ordinary

When Erin Greig came to China she was looking for adventure, a degree and a chance to learn Chinese, but she is leaving with a whole lot more.

With graduation just around the corner, the Class of 2023 student at Duke Kunshan University has a position lined up with an organization at the forefront of scientific discovery on the nature of aging, long term plans for further study and memories to last a lifetime.

“The DKU community was so uplifting and engaging, and many of the friends that I made there are friends for life,” she says. “The experiences that I had there led me to research that has helped me solidify my future professional goals, and the professors that I have had have been so eager to help and encourage me.”

Class of 2023 student Erin Greig, holding up her name in Chinese characters

From Bathgate in the east of Scotland, the spirit of adventure had already been sown in Greig aged six, when her parents moved to North Carolina in the United States for her father’s work. So, when she began looking for universities, she was naturally drawn to Duke Kunshan, both because if offered the opportunity to see somewhere new and because she had been studying Chinese since middle school.

“I came to DKU looking for something different,” she says. “I had applied to schools within the U.S., but when I was accepted to DKU, I decided on a whim to take advantage of the opportunity and move to the other side of the world. It’s a decision I haven’t regretted for a minute.”

Majoring in global health with a track in biology, Greig soon found herself taking advantage of the research opportunities at Duke Kunshan, and began to discover an interest in aging that would gradually become her focus and the direction of her future career plans.

Erin Greig with her host family in Kunshan

Her fascination with research into the aging process developed “organically” over a couple of years, she says, first through a summer research project with Dr. James Chappel, a history professor at Duke University, and then through a guest lecture given on the biological mechanisms of aging by Dr. Heather Whitson in Duke’s Department of Medicine.

“I had a meeting with Professor Whitson, who ended up inviting me to join the Duke-UNC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center,” she says. “As these organizations and projects unravelled around me, they coalesced in my Signature Work that examined historical perspective of Alzheimer’s through women’s magazine in the U.S. in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Alzheimer’s and aging is something I hope to continue with in the future.”

Signature Work is a self-determined research project that Duke Kunshan students undertake outside of the classroom.

Through her Signature Work project Greig developed a particular interest in investigating Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline from both a biological and social perspective. Alongside this, her position as an advisory committee member for the Duke-UNC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center allowed her to network with both early career and advanced career professionals in the field, she says.

Erin Greig (right) with her roommate Ivy Liu at Duke Kunshan University

That all paid off when earlier this year she landed a position with the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institute of Health, in Baltimore, Maryland, the United States, which she will take up after graduation. Starting in August, Greig will work as a postbaccalaureate research fellow there for one or two years under the mentorship of Dr. Luigi Ferrucci and Dr. Qu Tian, experts in the care of older adults, helping them to investigate biomarkers of aging using data collected from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, the longest running study of human aging in the U.S.

Beyond that she hopes to re-enter education to complete an MD/PhD in medical education.

“I hope to feed into geriatric programs in the future and care for aging patients,” she says.

Aside from leaving DKU with many research achievements and a promising career ahead, Greig also has a heap of good memories to take with her. Among her favorite is a bubble tea, or boba, group chat that started in her freshman year.

“Someone would send an initial text into the WeChat group and everyone would send their orders in. We’d order boba from More Cheers in mass and having everyone gather in the student residence hall second floor was always a fun experience. It is definitely one of my fondest memories, because our mutual love of boba brought us all together multiple times a week,” she says,

For those following in her footsteps and looking for a life less ordinary at DKU, Greig advises them to, “Take advantage of every second that you have in China.”

“With the world transitioning back to in-person activities and work, make the most of that, because the world can change so fast unexpectedly. Do things that scare you, have fun, and jump into everything you want to try,” she adds.

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