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Personal Progress to PhD and Beyond

Photo by Cassie Carlson

Dr. Pam Van Ry carries pictures of children in her wallet. The thing is, the kids aren’t hers.

Van Ry is a new professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. Her research focuses on protein therapies for certain types of muscular dystrophy that affect children. Meeting the families of these children motivates Van Ry to push through the challenges of research.

“There are times when you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this? Nothing is working, oh my gosh!’” Van Ry said. “And the families will give me pictures. They’ll say, ‘When you get down or are ready to stop the research, please just remember my daughter.’”

Before Van Ry went back to school, Van Ry knew that she wanted to help people. While her research has potential to impact thousands of children, Van Ry’s motivation to earn her PhD in cellular and molecular pharmacology and physiology originated much closer to home.

“One of the other reasons I went back to school is that my mom has a fibrotic lung disease,” Van Ry said. “At first her doctors were unsure of the cause of her symptoms. I felt prompted to start researching her disease.”

The prompting only grew stronger as her husband encouraged her to go back to school. One day as Van Ry was teaching a church Young Women’s lesson on goals and education, she decided to take steps to make her goals reality.

“I actually had my Personal Progress book with me that day, and I wrote, ‘Look into going to school and apply to one of the graduate programs,’” Van Ry said. “My mom always jokes that this was a seriously long-term project I set for Personal Progress.”

Once Van Ry decided she would pursue her PhD at the University of Nevada, Reno, she crafted a new goal—to graduate at the same time her daughter graduated from high school. And they did in 2014.

“In high school in Nevada, they get done in May, and I graduated in August,” Van Ry said. “I think it’s close enough. I’m counting it.”

Van Ry hopes that she can work alongside women at BYU the way she worked with her class of Laurels and her daughter. She hopes to inspire female undergraduates to study whatever they please, regardless of the “unwritten pressures” that Van Ry describes as influencing young women’s decision-making.

“I think it is completely possible to do anything that you want to do,” Van Ry said. “The Lord wants us to be whole people. There is no reason that every woman cannot have an education and still be a fantastic mother and wife and everything that she wants to be.”

Van Ry is quick to express her gratitude for the people who have supported her through the challenges of starting as a professor. Her husband, her mother, and her “sisters in the Gospel” have all helped her along the way. Additionally, the faculty in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department have made Van Ry feel welcomed and valued.

“The men and women here in the department have been so extremely supportive,” Van Ry said. “The positive environment at BYU encourages students, faculty, and staff to work together in ways I have never experienced outside of church.”

Van Ry will be continuing her work on muscular dystrophy here at BYU. She will be studying how the protein galectin-1 can be synthesized and used to replace the muscular “glue” that muscular dystrophy breaks down.

“Science sometimes is fantastic,” Van Ry said, paraphrasing Thomas Edison. “Ninety-nine percent of the time you are going to get it wrong, but there is that one percent that makes your day.”

By Mitch Rogers Posted on