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Liu Ying: Doing research is just like climbing a mountain

APR . 30 2019
Peking University, April 30, 2019: Dr. Liu Ying, assistant professor of PKU’s Institute of Molecular Medicine was recently honored the 15th China Young Female Scientist Award. The award was initiated in 2004, aiming to recognize young women scientists who have made significant scientific and technological achievements.

Liu Ying

After receiving her Ph.D. degree at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and completing her postdoctoral research at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Liu returned to China and set up her own laboratory at Peking University in 2013. In 2017, she has been named one of 41 International Research Scholars by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Curiosity—the source of motivation 

Dr. Liu’s research interest primarily lies in the regulation of cellular homeostasis, focusing on mitochondrial stress response and nutrient sensing mechanisms. Immersed in life sciences for many years, she believes that curiosity is the most important quality and motivation for a scientist. 

“It is quite common to encounter undesirable results during research, but curiosity can comfort researchers and motivate them to take such results as useful information,” said Dr. Liu, adding that these unexpected results can also offer useful information and tell us that certain procedures are not feasible in the experiment.

In addition to her curiosity about life sciences, Dr. Liu is also eager to know more about other fields of sciences. She has collaborated with other researchers, who are proficient in bioinformatics, chemistry, medical science and so on. Recently, she has become a member of Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics (ICG), a research institute spearheaded by Xiaoliang Sunney Xie, who is considered as a founding father of single-molecule biophysical chemistry and single-molecule enzymology. These less acquainted areas can provide new approaches and perspectives to solve scientific problems. Dr. Liu appreciated it much that Peking University boasts a sound interdisciplinary atmosphere. “Professors in different fields are glad to collaborate with each other for a win-win outcome. This makes Peking University outperform other universities in interdisciplinary areas, and every discipline here has a great potential to develop,” said Dr. Liu.

Together with students

Meanwhile, Dr. Liu often encourages students to maintain a good mentality during research by refering her own experiences. When she was a Ph.D. student, she went through trials and tribulations during the first two years. However, she didn’t give up. Instead, she maintained a positive attitude towards the ordeal. After overcoming a series of setbacks, her research achieved a leapfrog advancement, and that why Dr. Liu believes that the whole process of carrying out research is like climbing a mountain. “Students may feel their projects are going downhill at first, but actually their background knowledge and hands-on abilities of performing experiments are improving. And if they could persist in their research at this stage, they will eventually feel the enchantment of scientific research,” said Dr. Liu.

Focus and balance

According to Dr. Liu, great devotion of time and energy is a requisite for an excellent researcher, because reading literatures, conducting experiments and analyzing results are time-consuming. When Dr. Liu was extremely busy, she was inclined to suffer from insomnia from time to time and woke up at five for work. In an attempt to refresh her mind and relieve pressure, Dr. Liu tends to spend some time on her hobbies, such as running half marathon and decorating cakes.

On the track

Talking about how to balance the time of doing different kinds of work, Dr. Liu offered a few practical advice, saying that an effective time management is one of the best ways to improve work efficiency. For Dr. Liu, she is usually energetic in the morning and after dinner, so she would like to read literatures then. In the afternoon, a period of time when she is likely to feel sleepy, Dr. Liu is habitual to deal with something easier, such as replying emails. Moreover, writing down to-do lists on a notebook is also recommended to those who need to allocate their work more effectively. 

Mission and responsibility

Speaking of the reason why Dr. Liu started her career in China, she said that the longer she stayed abroad, the more attachment she felt to the homeland. When she attended the awarding ceremony of Outstanding Chinese Students Abroad, her tears ran down upon hearing the national anthem. At this moment, Dr. Liu was sure that she has the responsibility to return home and devote herself. Meanwhile, research environment in China has been improving. Intensive support from the government and the pouring passion form the students have convinced Dr. Liu that it was a wise decision to initiate her research career in China, especially at Peking University. “The equipment I used at Peking University is identical to that in the US universities. After my own laboratory was established, I managed to recruit over 10 graduate students, which is hardly possible in the United States,” said Dr. Liu.

On top of that, Dr. Liu also availed herself of every opportunity to popularize science. She believes that it is necessary for researchers to disseminate basic scientific knowledge to the general public. She mentioned that some controversial social events, such as false promotion of healthcare products and ethical issues of gene editing, indicate the necessity of science popularization. With this in mind, Dr. Liu attempted to translate some excellent popular science works into Chinese. Meanwhile, Dr. Liu also contributed a lot in teaching life sciences to primary school students. “The students’ interest vis-à-vis science have been eclipsed by the examination-oriented education. Therefore, I want to reactivate their interest through different means, for example delivering online courses or MOOC,” Dr. Liu said.

Dr. Liu is always labelled as a representative of young, outstanding female scientist. She believes such an impression can be an encouragement to female researchers who are expected to sustain their ambitions. Moreover, by voicing herself to Beida News, Dr. Liu hopes that female researchers can gain equal access to the academia and enjoy more opportunities to thrive in the society.

Reported by: Wei Qijia
Edited by: Huang Weijian