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NO.358 12.18.2017

“Watch How High I Soar at Kyung Hee University”

The HCR-listed researcher Eun-Jung Park has been appointed as a professor at Kyung Hee University Graduate School of East-West Medical Science
Top level research performance in the world in the fields of nanotoxicology and immunotoxicology
“Now I see a future in my study. It may sound ridiculous, but my ultimate goal is to become a Nobel Prize winner”


“The female researcher who persisted through career breaks to publish the world’s top 1% scholarly article” is the nickname of Professor Eun-Jung Park who, once originally intended to retire after her current contract expires, is now appointed as a professor at Kyung Hee University Graduate School of East-West Medical Science. She says it feels like walking on cloud nine these days. This is a story of Professor Eun-Jung Park and her ambitions.

Highly Cited Researcher (HCR) is an annual index of researchers whose academic publications rank in the top 1% by citations in its field, managed by Clarivate Analytics (formerly known as Thomson Reuters). Also included in the HCRs from Kyung Hee University are Professor Seo Young Jeong at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the pharmacology/toxicology categories (refer to the article on Nov. 30), and Professor Jong-Whan Rhim at the Department of Food and Nutrition in the agricultural science category (refer to the article on Nov. 23).


Belated research career that she once gave up due to family issues
“I was able to continue my research that I had long aspired to and it produced good results. But I saw no future in it.” Professor Park was a so-called ‘research professor.’ This is the second time that she was listed on the HCR, but she still felt awkward to attend the award ceremony. So she asked her husband if it would be okay to attend the ceremony. He encouraged her to go there and proudly receive the award, saying “At least it’d be a great conversation piece.” After two weeks since the ceremony, Professor Park now began a new career phase as a professor at Kyung Hee University Graduate School of East-West Medical Science.


“A woman on a career break” is what used to describe Professor Park. She was admitted with a full scholarship into the Health Management Department at Dongduk Women’s University in 1986. She wanted to go to the medical school but chose a more practical option in the face of reality. In her senior year, she briefly worked for Korea Electric Power Corporation, Korea's largest utility provider, but she had to quit in less than a year due to pregnancy. She also had to give up on her graduate school dreams because of childcare.


In 1993, Park entered the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Science at Dongduk Women’s University. After two years, however, she had to take a leave of absence to take care of her mother suffering from a pancreatic cancer. Within a month, her father-in-law was also diagnosed with a late-stage esophageal cancer. Instead of following her dreams, she had to care for her family at that time.


Professor Park was able to begin her doctoral study only in 2003, eight years after earning her Master’s degree. Then she was completely devoted to her research work. Professor Park recalled that this was one of the toughest moments in her life because she asked her husband and family to make sacrifices for her work."


When asked about the moment she decided to become a researcher, she named two particular ones, saying “The moment I first entered a poster presentation hall of the American Association of Immunologists, and when I first observed cerium nanoparticle through a microscope.” Park was driven into the path of the researcher by these two vibrating moments.


Having a series of critical illnesses in the family had a crippling impact on her. But this also motivated her to study nanotoxicology. As she began her research career at a relatively late age, she thoroughly read biochemistry lab books and started from the beginning all over again. In doing so, Park was able to study what she would like to do, and completed the doctorate program in nanotoxicology in just three years.


 

By that time, she was already over the age of 40. No one asked her to work with, but she ceaselessly devoted herself to research and was selected for the Program for Postdoctoral Fellows of the National Research Foundation of Korea in 2011, three years after earning her doctorate degree. This fellowship program supports promising temporary researchers without a permanent position within seven years of obtaining a doctoral degree.


As the postdoctoral fellow, she received an annual research funding of 150 million KRW (about $137,741 USD) for five years. This helped her to be appointed as a research professor at Medical School of Ajou University. Her ceaseless efforts as a research professor finally bore fruits. Her articles were cited over 400-500 times each, and she successfully put her name on the HCR list for two years in a row since 2016.


Actually made the HCR list for four straight years, not two


When asked about the recent changes she is undergoing and how she feels about it, she answered, “There is no practical difference in my work. The only difference is that I now see a future in it,” adding “I originally intended to retire after my contract expires, but now I have the hope of continuing my work.”


Professor Park, who visited Kyung Hee University for the first time in her life after the appointment, noted, “People talk about the research environment a lot, but I have never done research under a good condition. Good conditions and good buildings are not important for me.” She went on to say, “I feel that I am beginning to have a sense of belonging, as the important thing is that I am going to stay here and to continue doing research and teaching students.” She emphasized, “It feels very liberating to think that I can go far to where I want to go.”


Contrary to the news, she was actually on the HCR list for four consecutive years, not two. But she could not be notified in the first two years due to email problems. Unlike ordinary offices of a professor, her office did not have an assistant who could have confirmed her schedule. Professor Park said with a smile, “This can be one of the disadvantages of the temporary research professor position.”


When asked about the meaning of being named on the HCR list for two consecutive years and the motivator behind this achievement, she replied, “My rapid response to the cutting-edge area of research has made what I am now.” Nanotoxicology studies the toxicity of nanomaterials and it has been under spotlight recently. Park elaborated, “New materials were constantly being developed every day in the engineering field, but there was no study on the safety of those new materials.”
She said, “Nanotoxicology entered mainstream in the U.S. when the safety issues over silver nanoparticle washing machines surfaced. At that time, I became interested in the lack of toxicity report on many nanomaterials, and my research priority was on such key materials that could be used as a standard in judging the level of toxicity for the rest of nanoparticles.” Her pioneering precursor research laid an important foundation for other studies to follow.


I feel that I am not alone and get the strength to move on
When asked about the toughest moment in life, she said, “Every time I felt exhausted, I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t get disheartened, don’t give up.’” She added, “I think I now repay a little to my family who helped me continue my research. When my family members had to take care of my father-in-law because I could not give up my research, it was very painful. People may think I am a stubborn person, but I had every reason to persist, even wandering through a series of temporary positions. My research work was only possible by the sacrifice of my family. So my feeling is that it would be meaningless if I do not study what I am interested in and what I aspire to.”


Asked about her current goals, Professor Park said, “I would like to keep enjoying the research as I did,” adding “It may sound ridiculous but I also want to become a Noble Prize winner.”


She said, “Now I can carry out my own research projects, and there are more people who want to work with me. I truly would like to demonstrate my full potential here on.” She went on to say “I feel like I am not alone now. Thanks to the help of many people around me, I get motivated to go forward."


She was so busy that she could not spare time to visit her mother’s grave since 2008, saying “I told mother that I would be back when my dream is fulfilled. It was Kyung Hee University that helped me take a step forward.”


She noted, “Thank you for the closure on my past sorrows, and I feel grateful for your great hospitality. There is still a long way to go, but I will endeavor to be a professor who meets the level of proficiency as a member of Kyung Hee University.”


She is expected to play a key role in the Kyung Hee University’s ongoing initiative “the five Connective Cooperation Clusters” especially in the biohealth category. The BioHealth Cluster was launched in 2016 with the purpose of interconnecting oriental medicine, western medicine, and bio areas to produce world-class research outcomes that can enhance the public health and quality of life. It endeavors to strengthen inter-academic capacity in cooperation with intergovernmental and industrial organizations.


Chul-Hun Kang, Dean of Kyung Hee University Graduate School of East-West Medical Science, expressed great expectations of her, saying “It is remarkable that Professor Park’s research is first and foremost centered on the interest of people. I was looking for a convergent researcher who could integrate diverse disciplines, and her research outcome indicated that Professor Park was the right person.”

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