Meet Yuliana Tan

Written by Pamela Monahan and Dawit Tesfaye in Celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month

In celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage month, Diversity Committee members Dr. Pamela Monahan and Dr. Dawit Tesfaye virtually sat down with University of Connecticut Health Center and Jackson Laboratory doctoral trainee, Yuliana Tan.

What is your current position, and what does it entail?

I am a Ph.D. student at The University of Connecticut Health Center and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. My current project focuses on women’s reproductive health, specifically on understanding endometriosis and human blastocyst peri-implantation.

Can you talk a little bit about yourself, where are you from? What first attracted you to the world of science? And how did you get to be in your current position?

I’m from Indonesia! None of my family works in science and it was peculiar to aim to be a researcher or scientist. But I have always been fascinated with biology and the scientists behind the scenes! So, for each new thing I learned in class, I would be amazed and then ask, “How do they know? How did they discover it?”. For example, it is amazing knowing that all living beings share the same code – nucleic acids. I really appreciate the years it took to discover DNA from Friedrich Miescher in the 1860s to Watson and Crick in the 1950s. And even now, we are still understanding how these codes impact our life. Fortunately, my parents did not stop me when I decided to pursue my study in biotechnology at the Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia. At the end of my undergraduate year, there was an elective internship opportunity at the Genome Institute of Singapore. I applied for it and was fortunate to meet with Dr. Paul Robson and Dr. Elise Courtois then, who inspired me to pursue a career in science. In fact, I am currently still working with both of them!

What impact has the pandemic had on your daily activities and your research?

I was entering the 3rd year of my Ph.D. when the pandemic started. It was the year where I felt I needed to produce more, to do better, but also need a vacation break. It was quite frustrating that I could not plan for experiments or holidays. I have always been a wet-lab scientist working at the bench, and at the time, I had about 20 different patient-derived organoid lines growing in the incubator. When the lab closed for 3 months and with the uncertainty that followed, I was forced to stop all experiments. Left with so much free time and anxiety to produce, I finally spent my time analyzing our single-cell datasets on endometriosis. It worked out well as it resulted in our paper submission.

Have you gained any valuable lessons from life during the pandemic?

For me the pandemic has proved that we, as a society, can always find a way to thrive, e.g., I think we have found a good way to communicate virtually anytime and anywhere. Though in-person conferences and meetings do feel better, hybrid conferences have opened opportunities for those who are not able to attend in-person.

What are you most excited to do over the next year?

I am excited to finish up my Ph.D. projects and then move on to new challenges! I am also looking forward to visiting my hometown! I haven’t been back to Jakarta (Indonesia) since the pandemic hit, so visiting my parents and friends in Jakarta is on the priority list.

What words of inspiration would you like to share with the future generation of scientists?

Find what excites you AND the people who are excited to work with you!

What we see in published papers and presentations is the best part of science – the success. The efforts and solid teamwork needed to reach this success are not to be underestimated. The first lesson I learned from Prof. Bibiana W. Lay, my undergraduate thesis advisor, was that we must be able to navigate failure to find the truth – the science. And to do so, both genuine interest in the work itself and support from mentors and colleagues is tremendously essential. I was fortunate to find both during my journey and I wish you will find them too!

Are there ways in which you think your heritage has affected your perspective or career trajectory?

In terms of careers, I am fortunate that I never have to stop or think twice about something because of my heritage. Perhaps, this is the secret recipe for anyone’s success: a supportive and collaborative space where your heritage or gender does not matter, to the point that you forget about it. Yet, there is one aspect that I keep in mind. As I grew up having limited access to advanced science, I am encouraged to communicate science in the simplest way to allow any audience, from non-scientist to expert scientist, to grasp the exciting science we are doing and its possible benefits. Turns out, it is also very helpful for abstract and manuscript writing!

Pamela Monahan Twitter – @DrPamMonahan; Dawit Tesfaye Twitter – @DtesDawit

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