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Women In Science | Yaoting Sun - Outstanding Postdoctoral Women Award Winner
Office of Public Affairs
For Women’s History Month Westlake University is producing a special series called ‘Women in Science’ to celebrate the important role women have played and continue to play in the pursuit of science and technology.
Recently Westlake University held the second Westlake Female Scientist Development Forum and the 2023 Westlake Women In Science Award Ceremony. The awards ceremony saw the first winners of the new Westlake Outstanding Postdoctoral Women awards. Today we speak to one of these outstanding award recipients, Yaoting Sun.
Sun is a postdoctoral fellow in Tiannan Guo's research group with the School of Life Sciences. Her work focuses on the precise diagnosis of thyroid nodules based on clinical proteome big data and artificial intelligence. At the beginning of the pandemic, Sun was urgently asked to apply technology combining proteomics and artificial intelligence to differentiate mild and severe cases of Covid-19 patients. Sun is among the first researchers in the world to discover the changes in serum proteins and metabolites in Covid-19 patients after infection, and proposed a potential diagnostic model.
The following is an extract from a longer interview with Sun in late February. It has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: Can you please tell us about your research?
A: Sure. I am from the Proteome Big Data Laboratory of the School of Life Sciences, Westlake University. My major is proteomics. Our team carries out accurate diagnosis of diseases through proteomics and artificial intelligence.
Specifically speaking, I am doing research on thyroid nodules. Thyroid nodules are a very common disease in the population, about 50% of people have thyroid nodules. But 30% of them actually have some difficulties in the diagnosis of thyroid gland. My job is to use proteomics and artificial intelligence to make a judgment on these difficult-to-diagnose thyroid nodules.
I came to Western University in 2018 to do this work.
Q: What led you to pursue this kind of research?
A: When I was very young, I wanted to become a doctor. Then when I went to university, I studied in the medical school and had a chance to do a hospital internship. We were at a hospital for a year. During my internship, I found out that, well, if I'm going to be a clinician I have a lot of clinical problems that cannot be solved. Solving them would require research.
Later when I was about to graduate from my masters degree, my supervisor recommended a new university to me: Westlake University. There was a PI there, Tiannan Guo, with a background similar to mine. I sent him an email and he quicky replied to me, saying that if I wanted, I was welcome to come and work alongside him at Westlake. I didn’t hesitant. I flew to Hangzhou to continue with clinical related work.
Q: This month is Women’s History Month. As a women in science, have you faced much discrimination in your work and research?
A: For me personally, I have not felt much discrimination. But I have observed it around me. I had a classmate, she went to study for a master’s degree and a doctorate degree. Her family was not very supportive of this decision. They would tell her, "Oh, why do girls need to read so many books? Oh, a girl your age should get married,” etc. I think some of these traditional gender or age labels make people hesitate in choosing the path of science.
My personal point of view is that when we make choices, we should not be bound by gender. What should really affect us should be whether this thing is worth doing or whether we want to do it from the bottom of our hearts.
This issue of family pressure, I think it still happens, this is the environment we are in now. But, I'm actually pretty lucky. I think my family is very accommodating and supportive, they never interfere with any of my choices.
Q: How does it feel to be awarded a Westlake Outstanding Postdoctoral Women award?
A: Yeah, I’m very happy and honored to have this award. I think that this is not only a award, but also a responsibility for me. I think that with this award, I can show other female researchers, look I’m just a regular person, I can achieve it, you can too.
Q: What are you plan for the future?
A: I love doing research and I’m going to continue doing this work at Westlake University. If there is a good opportunity I am willing to move aboard to study new technology for my research. Ultimately, I want to be a PI, but I think I need more practice.