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Liu Ying conducts scientific research like running marathon

Updated: Apr 6, 2022 Women of China Print
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[Photo provided to Women of China]

Liu Ying is Deputy Dean and Ph.D. supervisor with the College of Future Technology, under Peking University. She is also president of and a professor with the Institute of Molecular Medicine, also under Peking University. During the past several years, she has led her team in making breakthroughs in biological research. She has had many treatises, on biological studies, published in the world's top academic journals, including Nature, Science and Cell. In 2017, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI, in Virginia) named Liu an International Research Scholar. In 2019, she received the 15th For Women in Science (FWIS) Award (in China), established by the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO and L'oreal (China) Co., Ltd.

Keep 'running' along right road

Liu, 38, is a native of Yanliang, (a district in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi province). While she was a senior middle school student, she developed an intense interest in biology. In 2002, she was admitted to the department of biology, under Nanjing University, after she passed the university-entrance examination. She excelled amid the numerous candidates (across the country) during the examination.

Soon after she began attending the university, Liu set a goal for herself: Go to the United States for further studies (after graduating from the university), to lay a foundation for her future research in bioscience. Within a short time after she graduated from the university, in 2006, Liu began studying in the Ph.D. program in biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center, under the University of Texas System. During her first year at the school, she worked hard to overcome the language barrier. She audiotaped teachers' lectures, and she spent more than two hours listening to the tapes each evening. She also asked a senior student, who also studied under Professor Liu Qinghua (her Ph.D. supervisor), to help her conduct biological experiments.

"During my first two years at the university, I had a hard time conducting research projects. Although I worked hard in the laboratory day and night, I could not get ideal experimental results, However, I did not give up hope. Then, I thought about the meaning of failure from a different perspective: Although the experimental results were not as satisfactory as expected, I obtained valuable data from the experiments … You can make progress through trial and error. Also, you can learn as much from failure as you can from success. Thomas Edison (1847-1931, an American inventor and businessman, who has been described as America's greatest inventor) is a good example. He experimented with several thousands of materials to create filament," recalls Liu.

Things took a turn for the better in 2008, when Liu conducted a research project successfully. She also had a thesis published on the project in Science. "I'm still in the preliminary stage of my studies. I hope my findings will eventually be applied to clinical studies. So, I have a long way to go (to conduct research)," says Liu. "Conducting scientific research is like running a marathon. One should find the right road and keep 'running' along it."

Liu from 2011-2013 studied cell biology, as part of her postdoctoral program, at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School (in Boston). In late 2013, she returned to China to teach (as a Ph.D. supervisor) cell biology at Peking University. Then, she was 29. During the following several years, she has yielded fruitful results (in her research work), through unremitting efforts.

Receiving immense joy, sense of accomplishment

Like many women her age, Liu has had a hard time maintaining a work-life balance during the first few years of her child's life. She tried her best to improve her work efficiency, so she could spend time with her child. To complete her work on time, she used a software timer to budget her time; after she worked for 25 minutes, she would spend five minutes doing with chores (in office). "Being efficient at work and living a high-quality life — that's how one should live a fulfilled, pleasant life," says Liu.

Her favorite hobby is running a marathon. When she began studying at Harvard Medical School (in 2011), Liu noticed many residents of Boston were marathon runners. Later, she learned the First Boston Marathon, held in April 1897, was the first of its kind in the world. Given the intense pressures in her research work, she took up running as a hobby, and that helped her reduce pressure in her life.

When she participated in the 2013 Boston Half Marathon, she realized one's inner feelings of running a marathon are somehow like conducting scientific research. "Usually, you are excited when you start running. However, you get tired after you run a couple of kilometers. Then, you regret bringing trouble to yourself, while at the same time, you encourage yourself to carry on. When you cross the finish line, your heart is filled with pride and delight. While you challenge your physical limit, you receive immense joy and a sense of accomplishment," says Liu.

[Photo provided to Women of China]

 

Photos Supplied by Liu Ying

(Women of China English Monthly February 2022 issue)

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