Goldwater Scholar Award Recipient: '1% ingenuity and 99% hard work'

Aug 13, 2019

Oscar Wu felt pulled toward scientific research years ago. At age 15 and a sophomore in high school, Wu sent out queries to 50 research labs. The result through the years brought him internships at places like the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston, Rice, MD Anderson and Harvard, where he did work in the cancer immunotherapy lab.

Earlier this year, Wu’s extensive research experience helped him earn a prestigious Goldwater Scholar award.

“It does help having Goldwater because Goldwater definitely does grant you a lot more open doors at the top 20s of prestige. Right? Everyone knows what Goldwater is. Maybe not everyone who are not science, right? But in terms of medicine, STEM, everyone knows what this award is, and it helps. So hopefully I can get into somewhere in the top 20s. Harvard would be great, not going to lie, UCLA would be great too.”

Wu, who will receive $7,500 for becoming a Goldwater Scholar, applied during his sophomore year at Tech. And he learned what to do differently this year.

“The second time I applied this year, I did get it, and that was because I was able to communicate my essay to a broader audience. Because not everyone who reads this is a microbiologist or whatever, so that was a good learning experience of how to communicate to those who are not in the same field as you.”

Wu was one of 496 students nationwide and 25 in Texas selected as a Goldwater Scholar, an award designed to encourage research careers in science, engineering and math. The award is named after Barry Goldwater, who served for 30 years in the US Senate.

This past spring, Wu took part in the Texas Tech Congressional Internship program. He spent the semester working in the Washington, D.C. office of US Representative Michael Burgess. Wu says the experience broadened his perspective, especially since he’s planning to go to medical school after he graduates in May.

“I will one day eventually have to deal with Medicare and Medicaid patients, and I think being exposed to people coming up there to lobby, especially physicians themselves to say ‘look, this is something that’s wrong with our local community, with our hospital, and so forth. We want you to help garner support to help change this.’ I think that was just such an eye-opening experience because in the end I had this almost narrow view that once I became a doctor, I’d be okay, but that’s not how life works. So being able to see physicians help participate in changing policy and participate in government was invaluable.”

Wu is aiming to be both a researcher and a physician, though he knows it will mean long hours.

“I think I would rather do a healthy mix of both. I’ve worked under people who have been able to do that, and they enjoy it. It’s hard work but it’s really just a matter of being able to delegate responsibilities, because if you try to juggle both- you also need to have a good team to back you up. So in the case of your lab, you need to have a good assistant professor to help take over some of your responsibilities while you’re in the clinic. I’ve worked under or have been around plenty of physician scientists who have been able to do both.”

He says he feels excited about the dynamics of being a researcher.

“I think curiosity, being able to find something new and make it your own, I’d say that’s the fundamentals of research. I would say like 1% ingenuity and 99% of hard work, and a healthy amount of luck, actually a lot of luck.”

In his freshman year, Wu took it upon himself to organize a program to advance and make an impact in science, technology, engineering and math interest with students in Lubbock high and middle schools. That program, the STEM & Leaf Corps, got national and Tech recognition.

“I originally started volunteering out at Lubbock high with the kids who were struggling to pass the Starr exams and then I helped recruit six other students, all of which are still in the organization, but as board members, and we just went from there, trying to expand in the local community.”