Student Spotlight: Lan Truong Studies Vietnam’s Traditional, Plant-Based Approach to Treating Diabetes

Lan Truong

By Lida Tunesi

Diabetes, a global epidemic, is especially prevalent in Vietnam. In 2016, the World Health Organization estimated that one out of every 20 Vietnamese adults had the disease. Ph.D. student Lan Truong (Biology) is looking at how traditional, plant-based medicine is being used to treat diabetes in South Vietnam and the implications for the rest of the world. 

She recently received a Dissertation Year Fellowship from The Graduate Center, which provides a $25,000 grant in addition to tuition coverage, to pursue her research. Impressively, she also won a 2020 Fulbright fellowship that allowed her to conduct field research in Vietnam.

Truong, who is also affiliated with the New York Botanical Garden, has pursued her research with guidance from Professor Douglas Daly (Biology). 

The Graduate Center spoke with Truong about her research, what drives her work, and her advice for fellow grant-seekers.

The Graduate Center: Can you describe what it is you study?

Truong: My dissertation research examines how traditional Vietnamese medicine (TVM) is used to treat diabetes in Southern Vietnam. Traditional Vietnamese medicine is the primary health care used in Vietnam because it is plant-based, affordable, and connected to the social-spiritual life of the Vietnamese people. 

GC: What impact do you hope to have through your research?

Truong: First, I hope to accurately showcase the botanical and social richness of the TVM tradition, so that the world outside of Vietnam knows about this unique, important, indigenous healing system. 

Second, I hope to advance existing knowledge of diabetes remedies in traditional medicine systems worldwide. Rather than focusing only on plant species with specific therapeutic properties, traditional healing systems treat the entire individual while also influencing the broader society. 

GC: What motivated you to study these topics?

Truong: I grew up around plants and was immersed in the botanical world from a young age. I felt compelled to learn about my Vietnamese heritage while exploring the ethnobotanical traditions that are relatively unknown outside of Vietnam. 

GC: You’ve also previously won a Fulbright fellowship—congratulations! Were you able to carry out that work or did the COVID-19 pandemic derail your plans?

Truong: Thanks! My Fulbright fellowship research experience in Vietnam enabled me to collect field and laboratory data, even though I had to depart early due to the pandemic. Fortunately, I was able to complete data collection and begin analyses with the assistance of my Vietnamese collaborators. 

GC: Can you describe your experience as a GC student so far?

Truong: My experience has been both rewarding and challenging, as graduate school should be. I am grateful to have incredible mentors in the field to help guide me. Additionally, as ethnobotanical research is highly complex, I learned that some aspects involving international collaboration, for example, can be a lengthy process that includes obtaining various research permits. 

GC: Do you have any advice for other students seeking fellowships or grants?

Truong: My main advice is to apply for opportunities that are most applicable to your situation. This not only makes you more competitive, and at the same time, you can focus your attention in a way that maximizes your chance of success. 

Then I recommend sharing your work broadly to help “market” yourself and your research. This can mean applying for many opportunities that you are eligible for and those that best suit you to gain experience and get valuable feedback.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

Submitted on: APR 28, 2021

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