Student Survivors: Krista Houmpheng

October 1, 2015 - Chelsey Thorpe

For October we are showcasing UNM student Krista Houmpheng, the living embodiment of a Student Survivor. Like many undergraduates, Krista juggles several other commitments and obligations alongside her academic pursuits. She is an example of a STEM student that really does it all. Despite the challenges she faces (which reflect some of the most common challenges identified in our first Student Survivors piece), Krista stays the course and is on track graduate in 4 years with her Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, May 2016.

Read more about Krista’s journey below and pay special attention to her tips and tricks for success!


(Click HERE for more info on our re-occurring blog topics.)

Krista HoumphengQ. Why did you choose your major?
A. I chose biochemistry because the human body is SO fascinating. It’s all too easy to be fooled by this exterior that we call skin. Did you know we have 1001+ processes going on beneath our exterior at any given moment to ensure that we can walk, talk, breathe—basically, to live? Biochemistry has given me a greater appreciation for our bodies and the foundational knowledge of how the human body functions.

Q. How do you plan to use your degree?
A. Hopefully med school! Sometimes, I like to compare the human body to that of a machine; like all machines, sometimes they get “broken”. Why not use my scientific background in combination with medicine to help those who are sick?

Q. Do you participate in any extra-curricular activities or volunteer work?
A. Yes, I commit about 10 hours per week to Alpha Chi Omega women’s fraternity. I’ve also been the Vice President of Intellectual Development for 2 years, and am the Collegiate Recruitment Information Chair, responsible for the management and organization of sorority recruitment.

Since Fall 2014, I have dedicated about 8 hours per week to UNM Hospital’s UNMH Emergency Department (ED) as a Research Student and Teaching Assistant facilitate the generation to ideas while serving as a resource for any questions the younger students may have through a special topics course that allows me to develop my own research projects that could potentially become a real study in the UNMHED. Whenever I have a break from my research, I shadow the ED physicians!

Q. Do you have another job other than being a full-time STEM student?

A. I have two jobs—I work as a waitress at my family’s restaurant, and hold an internship at Sandia National Laboratories. Combined I work 30 hours a week.

Q. How are you able to balance such a demanding course load and still have time for work and activities?
A. Time management and organization are key—I use my agenda to have everything in a single location that I can reference when I need to, and I check it constantly to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I write down all of my activities, due dates, upcoming test dates, etc..

Q. What are the three biggest challenges you have faced in college thus far?
A. Time management, meeting new people/making friends, and self-doubt.

Q. How have you overcome these challenges?
A. Time management—I’m not going to lie, like most people, I still struggle with procrastination, but it’s slowly improving. Studies say that it takes at least three weeks of dedication to change a habit—I start my homework as early as I can to avoid the stress that accompanies pulling an all-nighter before an assignment is due. Also, I’m old—I can’t pull all-nighters anymore. I need my beauty sleep!

Meeting new people and making friends— College years are supposed to be the best years of your life, right? Sometimes, you have to go out there and make opportunities for yourself instead of waiting for opportunities to find you. I ended up doing something completely unexpected—I joined a sorority my sophomore year and found a group of women who welcomed me with open arms. TLDR: Do what you want to do! Life is too short to not take advantage of different experiences. Live by this Mark Twain quote: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Self-doubt— Being a STEM major is hard. As if your major alone wasn’t already difficult enough, you’re surrounded by brilliant people who seem to constantly get good grades while you’re struggling. But, I realize now that this feeling is normal, just keep moving forward! It’s referred to as the Impostor Syndrome. It’s all about perspective; instead of thinking, “Gosh, I’m a failure, I’ll never be good enough”, I focus on changing it up and think, “Okay, I didn’t do so great, but I can do better next time. What can I learn from this?” I use my competitive nature as motivation—being around strong people makes me push myself in the pursuit of becoming better.

Q. What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been academically? Personally?
A. Academically, it’s been my ability to maintain a high GPA while juggling 30 hours of work, in addition to 15-20 hours of extracurricular activities.

Personally, my biggest accomplishment would be branching out and meeting new people. In high school, I used to be extremely shy. I hated initiating conversations, I wasn’t involved in any sports or clubs, and I considered myself to be an introvert. However, I wanted to change that in college—joining a sorority forced me to break out of my shell. I made new friends, got involved, taking on leadership positions. I used to be terrified of public speaking—now I can address a room of 80+ women, no problem. Having this support system gave me the confidence to go out in other areas of my life to meet new people and find new opportunities.

Q. What advice would you give to a freshman pursuing a STEM degree that would help them make it to the finish line?

A. You can do it! Most of the time, students are too focused on the end product (i.e. graduation, grad school, potential job, etc.) that they don’t realize it’s a journey. Being a STEM major is a marathon, not a sprint. Have confidence in yourself and stop comparing yourself to other people. It’s all too easy to look around and think, “I’m not good enough.” Change that thinking! You have to believe in yourself and your abilities before anyone else will.