November 28, 2023

Trailblazing Ph.D. graduate appreciates personal growth at Wayne State

Zhuqing Liang headshot
Zhuqing Liang

When your list of personal achievements in your field of study is off the charts — perhaps even historic — it can be difficult to identify what makes you the most proud.

That was the challenge facing Zhuqing Liang, a biological sciences Ph.D. graduate from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, when asked which personal achievement from her Wayne State University career she would tout above all others.

The options seemed obvious, as Liang had received high praise from Miriam Greenberg, Ph.D., head of the Greenberg Lab, which is focused on genetic, molecular and cellular biology. Liang, who will walk at Wayne State’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 16, is the first student in her department to receive a prestigious American Heart Association Predoctural Fellowship, as well as the department’s first student to be elected chair of the Gordon Research Seminar.

Additionally, Liang has been named Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant by the department and is a Rumble Fellowship recipient. She successfully defended her dissertation in September and authored five published papers, with two additional manuscripts in the pipeline.

But when asked which accomplishment she is proudest of during her Wayne State educational career, Liang went a more internal route, citing a “personality change” and her “growth in independence”.

“I really grew a lot in Dr. Greenberg’s lab, especially in terms of independence. Looking back to when I first started at Wayne State, I very much relied on people’s help, often looking for specific suggestions from advisors before starting a project. Then, then there was a ‘light bulb’ moment for me, when I realized I couldn’t wait for other people to save me from a project. I needed to save myself and think about how to design my projects on my own. My change from really depending on other people to thinking and working more independently is a change I’m really proud of.”

The 32-year-old grew up in the small city of Lianyunchang, China, where she attended dental school immediately after high school and became fully certified as a dentist before attending Wayne State. During her first year of dental school, she began thinking strategically about her career path.

“Dental school education in China includes gives you two options when you graduate – the standard practices in a clinic or hospital, or you can choose to be a researcher. I put a lot of thought into which path I wanted to choose,” Liang said. “I shadowed in a researcher’s lab for two years. The first year, I shadowed on a part-time basis on weeknights and weekends and again after graduating from dental school year in one year before working as a full-time researcher in the lab for a year.”

It was during this experience in a genetic and molecular biology lab that Liang’s passion for research was born and she started pursuing her future career in academia.

After becoming a Warrior, Liang began her focused research on Barth syndrome, a rare and life-threatening genetic disorder that can lead to many symptoms, including cardiomyopathy, skeletal myopathy, and fatigue because of energy deficiencies. Because of this, Barth syndrome patients have a limited capacity for exercise and can experience fatigue even when performing common everyday activities.

Mariam Greenberg headshot
Miriam Greenberg

According to Greenberg, it is known which gene is mutated to cause Barth syndrome but not known why a mutation in that gene leads to those problems. Liang’s work has aimed to understand “the why” behind the issues.

“Zhuqing’s work has identified two mechanisms which link the basic deficiency of Barth syndrome to the deficiency of a particular enzyme that is very important for energy metabolism. We think that her findings will be very informative for the energy metabolism problem that leads to the fatigue, exercise intolerance and cardiomyopathy in Barth syndrome,” said Greenberg.

Even though Liang’s fondest memories pertain to her inner growth as a professional researcher despite her many external-facing accomplishments, it’s safe to say that her development has positively impacted the people around her just as much as it put her own success story into motion.

“Zhuqing is very hard working and highly motivated to do something beneficial, notably with how welcoming she is to new people in the lab and how generous she is with her time to others,” Greenberg said. “She never hesitates to help anybody along the way if they need help or advice. She does it all in the best possible way.”

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