May 2021: Trà Huỳnh

University of Washington Bothell, Bothell, Washington

Trà Huỳnh

  • Member since 2017
  • Postdoctoral Scholar
  • Bothell, Washington

About Trà

In Vietnam, we often teach kids that only education can change life. You should be a doctor, an engineer, a businessman. Yet, there is rarely a call for being a scientist. Just as many other Asian kids, I know that I was studying not only for me, but for my parents and my family as well. “I ought to be their pride” and all I knew is studying, never knowing to stop and reflect if I enjoyed my schooling and who I was going to become. After getting a bachelor’s degree in teaching physics, I came to the U.S. and pursued my PhD in physics. Practically, it is because grad school is one of the few paths that I could afford to live in another country, learn about the world and who I was in it. At the same time, for me, physics was the only thing I could do and liked. A PhD in physics was my way to balance my family obligation and my own dream.

I came to K-State and worked with my graduate school mentor, Dr. Eleanor Sayre. In her lab, for the first time I could really see that doing physics is social, that doing research can be fun and enjoyable. In the physics education research community, it’s about collaborating, connecting, and sharing with people to create meanings. I still remember how delightful it was to present my talk and poster during my first AAPT and PERC in 2017. That was powerful and enlightening, yet that was also the scary part for me as a English language learner. Jokes that you do not understand and awkward laughs that you make as you do not want to be an outsider. Questions and responses that are so perfect in your head come out like a child’s broken words. Some names and faces do not stick in your memory no matter what you try. Grad school was tough and enculturation was tough. Being far from home was tough and being unable to share your struggles was tough. Because physics has little space for emotions and expression of struggles.

But the most valuable things after all these years are, I understand my family’s unconditional support, although they aren’t clear what I’ve been working on. I know that I have a network of my mentors and collaborators who I can always turn to for inspiration, motivation, and support. I have learned so much more about who I am, what I can do and what I want to be.

In recent years, I have built a small but stronger network within the physics education research community through workshops and conferences, such as AAPT. Following the step of my graduate school mentor, I am working towards supporting my folks to do their research in a fun and collaborative way. I also want to learn, share, and listen to other folks’ lived experiences and how those experiences have informed their views of science, research, and life. I hope to continue learning ways to support my folks to pursue academia and research careers in a self-caring, healthy, and sustaining way.

With all my people’s support, I accomplished my graduate school during the pandemic. Since then, many things have happened. I am now a postdoc at University of Washington Bothell and walking into the path of equity and justice, working to help science teachers integrate equity in their practice. I am looking forward to solving the puzzle of my identity. And I look forward to doing so by connecting with more people and finding my people, through supporting the communities where I am from, where I am living, and where I am working.