Kao Lee Yang, MPA, PhD in Neuroscience

Contact Kao Lee


Madison, WI

Undergraduate Education

Bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Wisconsin–Stout

Professional/research interests

Alzheimer’s disease

Expected graduation date


Why an MPA/PhD?

My undergraduate training was in psychology, and I intended to pursue a career as a psychologist. However, my grandmother passed away from dementia, and that changed my career trajectory. I wanted to learn more about dementia and how scientific knowledge of dementia could impact policies and practices that affect people living with the illness.

I was drawn to UW–Madison’s Neuroscience and Public Policy (N&PP) program for many reasons. One clear reason is the wonderful partnership between the La Follette School and the Neuroscience Training Program that allows students in the combined program to simultaneously develop skills in science and policy. I could not see myself studying just science or policy. That was how I knew that the N&PP was the right path to take.

Why the La Follette School?

I was drawn to UW–Madison and the La Follette School for various reasons—small class sizes, low teacher-to-student ratio, quantitative skills courses, being in a capital city, faculty expertise, Wisconsin, etc.

Career goals

Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory and thinking abilities and can be caused by different diseases. However, most dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. I am currently training with Dr. Barbara Bendlin in the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and learning how to best apply cutting-edge technology in characterizing brain changes that occur before individuals start showing signs of dementia. The idea is that our work will contribute to identifying optimal “windows” for intervention or treatment that may slow Alzheimer’s disease since the illness currently has no cure. My goal is to continue conducting research on Alzheimer’s disease and learn how scientists can inform practices that directly impact the lives of individuals with dementia and their family members.

How have your La Follette School courses and/or experiences set you on the path to meeting your career goals?

The La Follette School faculty I’ve met so far are incredibly knowledgeable and generous teachers. For example, in the spring of 2021, I took Introduction to Policy Analysis with Associate Professor Yang Wang. She structured the class such that we learned the purpose of policy analysis and how to write analyses for a hypothetical client. Indeed, the semester-long project was a policy memo on an assigned topic. I wrote my memo on maternal mortality in the United States, and I must say this was one of my favorite skills to develop thus far. Many thanks to Professor Wang and my classmates for making this course so memorable and helpful!

Advice to prospective La Follette School students

My advice to prospective students, especially those who wish to enroll in N&PP, is to be proactive and fearless in the pursuit of their dreams. The program is rigorous and there will be challenges, but those challenges will be worth it if you believe in and enjoy what you do.

Most challenging La Follette School experience

I started graduate school in the fall of 2020, while everyone was working remotely in the middle of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. That was incredibly challenging, but I hope that future students will not have to persevere through such times!