Women in Science club meets with Dr. Jingyi Liu

Dr. Jingyi Liu spoke with Cherry Hill Easts Women in Science club about her experiences in the fields of medicine and biotechnology.

Dr. Jingyi Liu spoke with Cherry Hill East’s Women in Science club about her experiences in the fields of medicine and biotechnology.

Cherry Hill East’s Women in Science club held a virtual meeting with Dr. Jingyi Liu via Zoom on January 11, 2022. Currently, Liu is an MBA candidate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to studying business at Wharton, she spent a lot of time in the medical field, earning a medical degree from Harvard. Liu shared her experiences in the fields of business and medicine, as well as her tips for success, with the East students.

Liu was born in China and moved to the U.S. when she was very young. She grew up in Chicago and went to undergraduate at Williams College, majoring in biology and minoring in neuroscience. Liu grew up playing the flute, which helped spark her interest in the intersection between neuroscience and music. She spent time abroad at Oxford college and in Ghana to do research about this connection, which is what eventually led her to go to medical school.

Liu attended Harvard medical school where she focused on starting a digital health company with some of her close friends that focused on diabetes in the Latin American setting. Towards the end of her time in medical school, Liu took a course in drug development that brought her back to her “love for science”. This helped her realize that she could combine her love for basic science with her love for entrepreneurship, which led to the path she is on now.

She graduated from medical school in 2019 and went off to do a year of clinical residency at Stanford. As of now, she has taken some time off from medical school to do an MBA at Wharton.

In 2020, Liu joined the non-profit organization Nucleate, an educational initiative working to help university students learn more about biotechnology entrepreneurship. She is now a board member for the Philadelphia-based chapter, and serves as an advisor to help Nucleate connect with people in the industry. She says that seeing how much Nucleate helps younger people gain confidence has been very important to her. In the future, Liu hopes to see many young people put a product out in the market because of Nucleate’s help.

Here are some highlights from the Q&A session the Women in Science club members held with Dr. Liu:

How was your experience practicing medicine in residency? What were your favorite parts of the job?
Liu did one year of residency and she loved it. From her perspective, medicine gets better each year as you gain more and more autonomy. “At the beginning it’s a lot of learning and memorizing basic facts about human anatomy, but then you slowly learn how to ask questions and use textbook info to provide real-life solutions,” said Liu. Afterwards, she says, you will learn to make your own independent medical decisions until you become a physician. Residency usually ranges from 3 years (pediatrics) or as long as 7 years (neurosurgery). For Liu, the best part of being a doctor is being able to meet people from different walks of life. There is no other profession where “you can meet such a wide range of people and hear about their lives.”

What was your least favorite part of being a doctor?
The worst part for Liu was a feeling of futility. Some patients she had met in the cancer wards were very young, and because there weren’t any treatments available, they were unable to overcome their fight with cancer. Liu said the worst part of being a doctor was seeing patients suffer and being unable to help them, despite all her years of education. “If you can tolerate the lows, that’s a sign that you should consider [being a doctor as] a profession,” said Liu.

What is a healthcare entrepreneur? What are your experiences as a healthcare entrepreneur?
There are so many different aspects of the career, but some examples of the work healthcare entrepreneurs do include coming up with a platform to connect patients and healthcare, a platform for video calling for patients, and developing mental health platforms like Headspace. Additionally, some of Liu’s friends are working on projects such as designing products that help with vaginal discomfort, developing pacemaker devices for heart health, and more.

Do you find having a medical and business degree helpful in your entrepreneurial pursuits?
Liu said that having both degrees certainly helps, but you don’t need any degrees to become successful. Liu said you need to have an entrepreneurial spirit, shiny degrees really are not necessary. If you already have the tools to become a successful entrepreneur or have lots of exposure to the business world, you really don’t need a business degree.

What are your tips for connecting with mentors?
Dr. Liu used to think that she could only have mentors in her field, but that certainly was not the case. An important part of developing a mentor relationship is getting to know them in other settings. Invite them out for coffee and just chat with them, or offer opportunities to them to allow them to become more engaged in your life, or help them spread the word on whatever company they are trying to promote.

Do you feel like you faced challenges being a woman in science and the business world?
Earlier in medical school while interviewing at another university, Liu remembers when an interviewer said something along the lines of “I can’t imagine you being a good surgeon and also a good mom.” Liu said she felt really astonished at this remark as she had believed that in 2015, people would be much more open to women in science, but that was obviously not the case. This experience was very eye-opening and sparked a passion in her to advocate women’s rights especially in the medical school. Liu said that from her perspective, there is definitely also a divide between genders in the business world, specifically in the biotechnology industry. She said that while there have been many movements to fight gender bias, change truly needs to come from the top down.

From Liu’s perspective, in order to advocate for gender equality, it’s extremely important to make allies with people who will advocate on your behalf. This also applies to having male allies, “because to be honest those with positions of power are more likely to be men,” and getting them to join you in speaking out can be really important and impactful.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Liu would tell her younger self that to be aware that there are barriers for women in science, but to operate as if those barriers don’t exist. “Just operate as someone super passionate about science,” said Liu. Another piece of advice Liu would give herself and other students would be to make sure not to narrow down their career options too early. “Even if something does not pique your immediate interest, you should still try to explore as much as possible!” said Liu. Without going out and exploring, Liu would not have landed on the path that she is on today.