Convocation Profile: A chat with PhD student Dong-Woo Kang

PhD graduate Dong-Woo Kang started his Masters program at Yonsei University in South Korea in the field of exercise and cancer but after meeting Dr. Kerry Courneya, a world leader in this area, he hoped to continue is research at Courneya's side.

What led you to pick the University of Alberta for your studies?

Among several reasons, the primary reason for me to choose the University of Alberta was my supervisor, Dr. Kerry Courneya. In the year I started my Masters program in the field of exercise and cancer at Yonsei University in South Korea, I immediately learned Dr. Courneya and his extensive contributions to the field and I had hoped to work with him since then.

What is the most remarkable thing you learned while you were a student?

It is very difficult to choose one most remarkable thing I learned at the U of A, but if I had to choose one, it was an eye-opening experience that there are much more than studying, researching, and all the professional development as a graduate student – the consistent learning/unlearning process, regarding how diverse our society is, what privileges and biases I have, and how to be respectful and supportive, was truly remarkable, and there are many professors and colleagues who are leading by examples and provoking my thoughts.

How did you engage with student life on campus?

I have spent most of my campus life with my lab and faculty friends with casual social and sports activities. I led a soccer team with my KSR graduate friends for a few years, as well as engaged in various sports activities including basketball, slow-pitch, water polo, ultimate frisbee, etc, which were very enjoyable and a great channel to get to know other colleagues within the faculty. Being an executive team member of KSRGSS was also a great way to connect with and support each other.

Tell us about your experience in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation?

The first thing I want to say about KSR is the people. Professors, staff, and colleagues I met in KSR are open-minded and caring for one another, which has created such a supportive and friendly climate. Needless to say, I also much appreciated the exceptional quality of courses/lectures, research environment, and mentorship.

What kind of research did you do?

My primary research was to identify the benefits of exercise and physical activity in cancer patients and survivors through randomized controlled trials or epidemiological studies. Specifically, my PhD project was focused on testing the effects of high-intensity aerobic interval training on cardiorespiratory fitness and biochemical progression of disease in prostate cancer patients undergoing active surveillance.

In 2017, KSR wrote about Dong-Woo’s clinic trial - Clinical trial a first in testing benefits of exercise on prostate cancer progression

Where are you hoping to take your research now that you have graduated? What is next for you?

I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Medical Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School in Boston. Here, I am continuing to pursue my passion for research in “Exercise Oncology” and have further noticed a number of unmet clinical needs in cancer patients where exercise can be of great help.

Did you face any significant challenges?

I am not shy to mention that I experienced a moderate-degree of anxiety and depression, and potential burn-out during my PhD. It was challenging but I was fortunate to manage them well with the support of my supervisor and colleagues. Mental health in graduate students IS a great issue, which can be complicated on various levels, such as imposter syndrome, perfectionism, self-doubt, financial problems, adult ADD, fear of uncertainty, and marginalization. I am always encouraging current or prospective graduate students to proactively watch their mental stress and keep a good work-life balance.

What was your most memorable U of A experience?

The most memorable experience was getting to know my wife, Shuyan Yu, when we were both KSR graduate students, and getting married last year.

How have you spent your time during COVID-19 distancing?

 I was inevitably busy during COVID-19, as 2020 was a significant year for me when I got married, graduated, and moved to Boston for my next journey. It has definitely been challenging not being able to meet friends in person as I wished, but it also opened an opportunity to spend quality time with my family and to meet friends virtually from different cities and counties.

As your journey at the U of A comes to a close, what advice do you have for new students?

 I would like to close by emphasizing two things: First, it is now more important to have an open-mindedness and acknowledge diversities of our society, but I am sure it is not taught itself unless you proactively seek out the opportunities. Many resources exist at the University of Alberta to help you learn and unlearn and contribute to a better, inclusive, and equitable community. Second, keeping a good-balanced life can be very difficult and needs consistent practices. I noticed, however, that it can be easier if you work on it earlier than later as it is largely a mindset or philosophy of living. I hope current and new students can start finding their work-life balance early on, spend more time with families and friends, travel and read more, and learn something that cannot be taught in the classroom.

Connect with Dong-Woo Kang