Dr. Li Xing
UVic Women in Science presents an postdoc interview series highlighting women in the scientific community on Vancouver Island. Dr. Li Xing is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Victoria. As a Mathematician, Dr. Li Xing develops and tests statistical models.
Please tell us about yourself and your scientific journey. I was originally studying algebraic topology at the University of British Columbia and switched gears to statistics, as it combines both theory and application. Before joining UVic, I did my first postdoc at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). I enjoy developing new methods and collaborating with researchers in other fields.
What inspired you to pursue a career in statistics? I had an opportunity to work with a psychologist at UBC in my second year as a Master’s student in mathematics. At that time, I have worked on developing test statistics and evaluating their performance. What I love most about statistics is that I can write code to generate beautiful figures and tables to illustrate results from my methods. Before this, I was working on mathematical equations and theories. I much prefer statistics because it is an interactive discipline and I have many opportunities to collaborate with researchers in the other fields.
What is the most interesting project you have worked on and why? My project on Neuroimaging interests me the most since its data is high-dimensional and requires large scale computation. During this project, I gained practical experience in dealing with large data sets and learned a variety of techniques used in data science.
What has been your biggest accomplishment to date? Last year, I worked on multiple projects with different research teams, which resulted in the production of five manuscripts, two of which have already been submitted to journals, two are in the last stage of preparation, and the other is very close to being submitted. I have never worked this hard, however I really enjoyed the process of thinking about research problems and writing manuscripts.
How was the transition from grad student to postdoc? What are the biggest obstacles you encountered during this transition and how did you overcome them? In my opinion, a postdoc position is equivalent to a formal job. Working as a postdoc is different from being a graduate student. I take on more responsibilities and work more independently most of the time. The biggest obstacle for me has been the birth of a new baby at the end of 2017. I managed to look after her by myself and be able to work during the day. My partner and my children have been very supportive during that phase.
What are the major differences you see being a postdoc compared to a grad student in a research lab? The major difference is that as a postdoc, independence in research is required, which includes selecting research topics, developing methods, and writing up manuscripts.
How did your grad school experience prepare you for a postdoc position? During my PhD, my supervisor provided a lot of support for my research and encouraged me to work independently. I received a great deal of praise whenever I generated a high quality report.
What’s the most amazing or surprising thing you’ve learned so far in your postdoc career? For many difficult questions, we may not be able to find the global optimal solution, but the local optimal ones are still valuable. The road to scientific research can be dark at times, all we need is a dim light to help us stay on the right path. My strategy when doing research is to try my best to find a solution and share the findings with the world. Even if it is not the best solution, people will recognize its value and the dim light it provides will illuminate others’ paths.
How do you maintain your work-life balance? I just work as much as possible. I have four kids and the oldest is 10 and the youngest only 1, so I have a lot of household work to do every day. My youngest is at home with me full time but I find time to work during the day when she naps, when she can play beside me, and when her siblings come home from school and play with her. I also work during the night (usually until 4 am) from time to time to meet the deadlines. I work over the weekends since my husband can help to look after kids during the weekends. I just try to utilize every moment I can to work.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I see myself as a successful researcher in 10 years. My criteria for success are to have solid results in my field with many publications, receive international recognition, and build a world class team in order to develop new methodologies and means of analysis.
6 out of 7 graduate students leave academia after grad school to pursue careers in non-academic sectors. In your opinion, what needs to be changed to attract more grad students to pursue postdoc positions? Pursuing a research career is especially hard for women. Since many decide to have children after their PhD, it is extremely difficult to balance taking care of small children and also devoting time to research. More special consideration and acknowledgement should be given to women researchers with children. I believe this in turn will encourage more female grad students to pursue a career in research.
What advice do you have for grad students who are interested in pursuing a post doctorate? What do you think are the major factors to keep in mind when deciding on a postdoc research focus and supervisor? A postdoc is a critical step if you are planning to apply for a faculty position at a university in the future. Think carefully before making decisions as there are many factors to consider. A major consideration is whether you like the research they do in their lab or not. If you feel that you would enjoy it and could contribute to it, then go for it. Since a post doc position predominantly involves research, if you don’t have a passion for research then you will find yourself doing a job you don’t like.