Kao Lee Yang

Position title: M.P.A./Ph.D. Candidate

Email: klyang3@wisc.edu

Hometown: Madison, WI

Undergraduate Education: B.A. in Psychology (UW-Stout), M.A. in Psychology (Ball State University)

Professional/research interests: 

Alzheimer’s disease, aging, and neurodegeneration


2020 – UW-Madison Science and Medicine Graduate Research Fellow

2019 – Wisconsin Women’s Network Policy Institute Graduate

Expected graduation date: 2024

What experiences (for example, work, volunteer, travel, etc.) shaped your decision to enroll in the Neuroscience and Public Policy program at UW-Madison?

Prior to joining UW’s NPP program, much of my formal education has centered on learning how to be a rigorous social scientist (my undergraduate and prior graduate training at Ball State). However, a part of me felt it was not enough. While lab work was meaningful and I found it endlessly intriguing to probe and understand social phenomena, I yearned to work more closely with people to affect change in areas that needed it most. I am passionate about advancing the progress of women and underrepresented groups – in science and in (for the most ambitious parts of me) all realms. Thus, I sought opportunities for developing other skills to perform more direct advocacy work. This led me to join the Wisconsin Women’s Network Policy Institute. In the Policy Institute, my team and I worked with Wisconsin State Representative Lisa Subeck and the office of (then) State Representative Chris Taylor on a bill that would ban the shackling of pregnant inmates. From this experience, I gained valuable knowledge on the skills and methods it needed in order to affect policies that are important. This experience confirmed for me that I wanted to continue performing scientific work and learning about policy. UW-Madison’s NPP program provided just the environment to pursue this goal.

What was so appealing about the program for you?

This program is appealing because it is institutionalized such that both the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Neuroscience Training Program are working together to help students succeed in both realms. Having this institutionalized support makes the process of navigating courses easier and more supportive than how I imagine it would be if I were pursuing both degrees on my own without institutional buy-in.

What is your dissertation research focused on? What are you learning, what techniques are you using? What excites you about this research?

I am interested in characterizing subtle microstructural changes that occur in the brains of individuals vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, prior to showing any clinical symptoms. My work uses neuroimaging and CSF-based biomarkers to characterize these changes. The ultimate goal is to understand and map these changes such that we could identify windows which would be optimal for interventions that may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In examining these scientific questions, I am also interested in finding ways to increase research participation from traditionally underrepresented individuals as well as ways to improve research conducted with individuals from underrepresented groups.

In what on- or off-campus volunteer activities do you participate?

As a former UW-Stout McNair scholar, I volunteer to be a mentor to other McNair scholars at UW-Madison. I also do other types of outreach work, such as volunteering to read a children’s book during the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Hmong American Day Read Aloud. In 2020, it was virtual due to COVID, so I submitted a video. You can view that video here.

If any NTP or N&PP alumni and/or friends have helped you with your career path or course work, who was it and how did he or she mentor you? If it was for a specific course, which one and what was the project?

I worked for Dr. Barb Bendlin a few years prior to joining the NPP, and prior to Dr. Bendlin becoming the NPP Director. She was extremely supportive of my career aspirations and desire to join the NPP program. Her encouragement and support are invaluable.

What are your career goals?

Work in academia as a research professor and advance into academic administration, such as a dean, provost, or chancellor.

How has your N&PP experience (classes, research, etc) set you on the path to meeting your career goals?

This program provides doorways to many experiences and opportunities that can enrich my skillset. All I need to do is seize those opportunities.

What advice would you give to prospective N&PP students?

Be proactive. Speak your truth. You got this.

Is there anything you’d like to add or emphasize (family, pets, travels, interesting experiences, volunteer activities, etc.)?

Since I started traveling, I used to travel somewhere new (domestically or internationally) at least once a year. COVID times has brought this goal to an abrupt stop but I’ll resume traveling again once it’s safe. Indeed, I carry my passport with me so I can leave at any moment’s notice (though unfortunately my life isn’t *that* exciting .. yet). I have explored northern India, Chicago, Reykjavik, Singapore, San Antonio, Kuala Lumpur, Chichen Itza, Honolulu, and other places either by myself (I love traveling solo) or with others. Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive if done with planning. I have saved up for every trip since I sincerely believe in learning more about the world around me, and I learn best by doing/seeing. Traveling solo has challenged me to be alert, aware, and fine-tune spatial navigation and recognition skills. Because once I successfully navigated the streets of Singapore and Malaysia, I knew I could conquer anything.

People would be surprised if they knew …

I am really good at Beat Saber.