Who inspired you most?
My grandfather was the biggest influence on my life. He traveled from China to study educational psychology at the University of Chicago in the 1920s on a government grant, and brought back a tremendous amount of knowledge and experiences. He opened my eyes to the possibilities in the world and instilled three things that I’ve carried with me to this day:
- A sense of curiosity: Always strive to explore new things, people, places and ideas.
- A beautiful saying in Chinese: 问心无愧 — literally it translates to, “Ask your heart and there’s no regret. ” He taught me to always do — and give — the best you have, and you’ll always be happy with the result.
- A sense of mission and responsibility: He encouraged me to make an impact on society, to do something that is bigger than myself. Believing that I was capable of doing something that has a profound impact on humanity has always been a powerful driver.
“问心无愧 — Ask your heart and there’s no regret.”
What brought you to Healthcare Research?
I started my career in machine learning, doing handwriting recognition, multi-media content analysis and business analytics. I was seeing success in my field, but I couldn’t get my grandfather’s words out of my head. I wanted to do something more. I had the opportunity to be one of the founding members of the Health Analytics group within IBM; we saw the increasing digitization of medical records as an untapped opportunity to apply modern computational methods to generate insights. We saw the power of machine learning in healthcare long before it was mainstream, and we’ve been working on developing the tools and techniques to uncover those insights ever since.
What excites you most about your job?
Aside from the many technical challenges and opportunities ahead of us, I really enjoy facilitating the relationships and partnerships needed between the technical and medical communities. I found that I had a special knack for identifying problems, the right people and the most promising way to solve a problem, then bringing them all together to collaborate on the solution. Translating between medicine and technology — and back again — is difficult, but it’s one of the parts of my job I like the most: connecting problems with the solution space and identifying where best to commit energy and resources.
Do you have a passion project?
During the Cultural Revolution in China we were extremely insulated and isolated from the rest of the world. Everything from the Western world was banned. I remember my father occasionally playing contraband classical music on an old record player with the windows blacked out. Today, I serve as the treasurer for the Sinfonietta of Riverdale, which is a small orchestra composed of world-class musicians from New York City committed to bringing classical music to the general population. I’ve loved this music since I was a little girl, and being able to help share it with the world is incredibly satisfying.
What’s the one invention you wish you had invented?
Penicillin! It has saved — and continues to save — millions around the world every day.