Eric Hoyeon Song was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved to Buena Park, California with his parents and younger brother when he was eight. Eric vividly remembers one of his first days of school in the United States; he entered his classroom without speaking the language, and to add onto the feelings of fear and awe, everyone was dressed in bizarre costumes—it was Halloween. To this day, he thinks about those feelings as he navigates new challenges and environments.
The teachers and mentors Eric met growing up greatly impacted his vision for the work he wants to do: providing children with better opportunities. In pursuing this goal, Eric cofounded a nonprofit organization, Project L, and worked at Teach for America as a campus campaign coordinator during his time at the University of Southern California. After obtaining a biochemistry degree from USC, Eric got a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins, performing research on optimizing gene delivery methods that could help brain tumor and cystic fibrosis patients. He continued to develop drug delivery systems to treat brain tumors at Yale University with Professor Mark Saltzman, publishing his findings in Nature Communications.
With the Fellowship, Eric completed an MD/PhD at Yale University. Working with his PhD mentor, Professor Akiko Iwasaki, Eric identified a key limiting factor in invoking an immune response against brain tumors, which was published in Nature. Eric wants to continue working on translational research that can one day provide new therapies for patients.
We caught up with Eric about what's next and what the Fellowship has meant to him:
Where are you with your graduate program now?
With the support of the PD Soros Fellowship, I was able to complete my combined MD/PhD degrees at Yale. I decided that staying at Yale will allow me to achieve the kind of career I dreamed of having and now am continuing on as a resident in ophthalmology while starting my own research group at Yale.
Can you tell us more about your graduate studies—what questions were you pursuing? What was the main focus of your studies?
My PhD work centered around trying to understand why immune responses in immune-privileged tissues such as the brain and eyes were different compared to the rest of the body. I felt that therapies for diseases of the brain and eyes were greatly slowed down because of our predisposed thought of how the immune system works in these spaces. But instead, by understanding why the immune responses are different in these organs, we will be able to better understand diseases that affect neurological function and help design therapies to help patients.
How do you describe The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program to others?
This is a very special Fellowship that is different than any other award and fellowship I applied to before. Members of the selection committee and the other Fellows truly value community and take the time to select candidates beyond just their professional achievements.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?
Take the time to really reflect on where you come from and how this drives your future dreams and aspirations. We often get so caught up on achievement and accomplishments that we have tunnel vision—applying to the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship is a rare opportunity to think about what we are working towards and to reinvigorate your motivation.
Who has inspired you from the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community?
Someone who inspires me from the PD Soros Fellowship community is Mikhail Shapiro. His ability to distill complex scientific ideas into elegant, executable projects is something I strive to be able to do in the future. In addition, his easy-going spirit, constant encouraging attitute towards trainees and others (like me!) while doing high caliber science is something I aspire to embody as I continue on my journey of becoming a physician-scientist. ∎