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PhD Student Advocates for Higher Ed Funding in Washington, D.C.

Xiaoqing Zhang

At a time when government research funding is threatened, advocacy for higher education is critical. That’s something doctoral candidate Xiaoqing Zhang has learned as a student researcher, and more recently as an intern with Stony Brook’s Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C. this past summer.

“Interning for SBU’s Office of Government Relations was a valuable educational experience that prepared me to be a strong and effective advocate for scientific research funding and other important issues,” said Xiaoqing. “I look forward to continuing to represent the graduate students of Stony Brook University.”

Originally from the Guangdong province in Southern China, Xiaoqing attended South China Normal University and Jinan University in Guangzhou city before coming to Stony Brook to pursue her PhD degree in August 2016.

“I enrolled at Stony Brook because the PhD program in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences was a good fit for my research interest,” she said. “My concentration is Behavioral and Community Health.”

Xiaoqing’s research focuses on the risk and protective factors and their interaction contributing to the psychological resilience of left-behind children (LBC) in rural China.

“I learned about the mental health burden faced by LBC during a volunteer trip to a rural village in China,” she said. She joined the “Volunteer for Rural Areas” program in Guangzhou in the summer of 2009.

Under the government-sponsored project, public officials, medics, scientists, and college students such as Xiaoqing travelled to rural villages to offer basic education and medical assistance to farmers and their families. She contributed by developing and conducting surveys that helped shape policies that were implemented. The experience also provided first-hand exposure to the left-behind children of migrating parents and the challenges they face.

LBC are “left behind” in rural areas under the supervision of their grandparents, relatives, older siblings or self-supervised while their parents migrate to urban areas for better income opportunities during an extended period. The estimated number of LBC was 61 million according to a 2013 study, a population larger than California and New York combined. As an economics major at the time, Xiaoqing was shocked to realize that the daily pressures and challenges of low-income families coupled with the rapid growth of urban areas were conspiring to limit the long-term opportunities of these poor families and their children.

A few years after her first trip, she again volunteered to visit groups of LBC, this time with the non-governmental organization Global Friendship. The experience further convinced her to study the LBC’s problems and work to help improve their mental health outcomes.

Xiaoqing cites Community Health and Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR, HAX 640) as one of her favorite classes at Stony Brook.

“This course provided an overview to critical issues in conducting research in community settings, as well as general principles of CBPR, and quantitative and qualitative techniques used in CBPR, evaluations, and interventions,” says Xiaoqing. “I find CBPR most impactful because it facilitates collaborative, equitable partnership between researcher, community members, along with other stakeholders in all research phases. Its aim is to combine knowledge and action for social change and to improve community health and eliminate health disparities.” Xiaoqing hopes to eventually conduct CBPR and commit to the translation and integration of research results with community change efforts for the benefit of all partners.

In addition to her studies, Xiaoqing also served as senator and treasurer for the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) before being president elect of the organization in May 2019. It was this role that brought politics and science together.

As president, she acts as a spokesperson for the GSO in presenting its positions and policies, and supervises the execution of senate-approved legislation. She also champions those issues that have the most substantial impact on graduate students’ experience and seeks meetings with University administrators to voice the concerns of graduate students.

“I advocate the GSO services and funding opportunities in order to make our University a better place for 8,000 graduate students to study, to work, and to live,” she says.

Xiaoqing Zhang
Xiaoqing’s research focuses on left-behind children (LBC) in rural China.

Xiaoqing also serves as a student representative on the research committee of the School of Health Technology and Management (SHTM). The committee organizes research seminars that are of interest to SHTM faculty and students.

She became an elected Employment Concerns Chair for the Northeast Region of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) in March 2019. In that role Xiaoqing is responsible for planning and formulating action concerning the issues of employment during and after the attainment of a graduate and/or professional degree.

Xiaoqing cites Debra Dwyer, director of Academic Planning at the College of Arts and Sciences, as an influential mentor.

“When I first visited Stony Brook in the Fall of 2015, Professor Dwyer let me sit in her Economics and Public Policy class,” said Xiaoqing. “I was grateful for her kindness and guidance for a visiting student like me who had no previous relationship with her. It is because of her encouragement and help that I made the decision to apply for my current PhD program. Later I did my teaching practicum with Professor Dwyer for the same class and gained so much teaching insight from her.”

Xiaoqing also mentions Sharon Ray, clinical associate professor in occupational therapy and her mentor in the program.

“Thanks to her high standards and support, I passed my qualifying exams and defended my dissertation proposal by the end of my second year,” said Xiaoqing. “She inspires my critical thinking and encourages me to express my ideas and follow my research passion. She is dedicated to training me to become a good research scientist. Her faith in me constantly motivates me to study hard and work hard.”

During her three years of working closely with the GSO Executive Committee and Senate, Xiaoqing has learned the importance of fighting for funding for scientific research, witnessing first-hand how federal and state policies affect graduate students’ research, work, and life.

“Since Spring 2017, I’ve witnessed the need for increased state and federal funding for crucial research at Stony Brook,” she says. “I have been sitting in on meetings regarding the current status of funding and discussing how to advocate for more research funds. Additionally, I participated in the SUNY Washington, D.C. Advocacy day as a graduate student representative to advocate for SUNY funding and SUNY student needs in April, 2019. This experience further convinced me that researchers and students like myself must play a more active role in the legislative process and learn how to effectively advocate for scientific research in order to secure critical funding.”

Following that interest, Xiaoqing interned with Stony Brook’s Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C. this summer.

She is serving on the Stony Brook Alumni Association Board for the academic year, as well as being part of the University Senate’s Academic Planning and Resource Allocation committee. After completing her PhD degree in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Xiaoqing hopes to obtain a postdoc position in Health Sciences-related areas in order to continue honing her independent research and grant-acquisition skills.

“My long-term career goal is to dedicate myself to higher education as a professor, researcher, and scientific funding advocate.”

–Robert Emproto

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