Megan Yu is a senior at the University of Virginia, where she is pursuing a B.A. in Chemistry. An aspiring physician-scientist, Megan plans to pursue her work in health policy and translational research, and is currently the Principal Investigator for a health policy research project at the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Moreover, Megan is a fervent advocate for women and girls in STEM, and has written prolifically about issues related to women and STEM on Public Library of Science Blog Network, The Huffington Post, Pulse – Voices from the Heart of Medicine, and Girls’ Globe.
What is your background?
Megan Yu: I am a senior at the University of Virginia as a College Science Scholar and a Chemistry major. I have pursued independent research in pediatric feeding disorders, cancer genomics, and health policy/social psychology, and have published various articles and stories in science communication and narrative medicine. I am training to become a physician scientist, and I have and plan to continue my work in biomechanics, oncology, neuroscience, bioethics, narrative medicine, and health policy/management. Currently, I am in the process of publishing multiple papers that discuss critical themes in modern healthcare and medical research and various stories that illustrate the humanistic practice of medicine.
You are currently the Principal Investigator at the UVA Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy that focuses on health policy and social psychology. Can you share with us some of your experiences with this project and some of your most valuable takeaways?
Megan Yu: I have always wanted my work to have an impact on society, and when I was working on the projects of other researchers, I notice that there is a gap between basic science findings and how many of them are eventually translated in the clinical setting. After learning about the mission of the UVA Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, I was immediately drawn to health policy research because it translates basic science findings into actionable knowledge. I decided to design my own project and with some time and a lot of motivation, I managed to find an adviser who was willing to fund my project.
My project involves investigating the role of a psychological force in promoting altruistic behavior and whether the phenomenon has pernicious consequences (for the purposes of possible publication, I have chosen to not disclose the details). I have selected this project because much is known about the types of biofluids that could facilitate disease transmission, particularly in large gatherings, but little is known about the underlying psychological mechanism that could explain this phenomenon. I hope that, through this project, I could generate findings that could aid policy workers in designing more effective interventions that could prevent most disease transmission. Within several months, I was able to write several protocols that were approved, guide a team of undergraduates to collect data, and complete a portion of the data analysis.
I think one of the most valuable takeaways I could provide to other young researchers is to never underestimate your abilities and to always pursue your passions. I was often told I was too young to do what I want to do. If I had stuck with what those people said, I would have never been able to make it this far in this project. It was gratifying to conduct independent research using the knowledge I already have, which also confirmed the career goals I have set for myself. Also, always take the time to figure out what you want to achieve and check in on yourself consistently to make sure you are happy. Preparing yourself for a professional career, like medicine, is long, and if you are not happy with your decisions, life can pass by very quickly.
Moreover, your work/writing on public health and medical policy has been featured on Public Library of Science Blog Network, The Huffington Post, and Pulse – Voices from the Heart of Medicine. Can you share with us what initially drew you to blogging and why you think blogging is crucial to social impact?
Megan Yu: I think what led me to publish those pieces was my interest in communicating science and medicine to the public, and blogging and narrative medicine are some ways to achieve that. I knew I wanted to become a physician since I was very young, and since communication is central to providing good medical care, I wanted to learn how the public gets its scientific information so that I could better communicate with patients. I personally selected topics and stories that would be meaningful without sacrificing patient confidentiality. I hope that, by publishing articles outside of academic journals, my writing could serve as an agent for change while providing a space for personal reflection.
What motivates you to continue advocating for women in STEM?
Megan Yu: During my earlier years, I was often told that I was too young to do things that usually older people would do or that I was improving way too fast for someone of my age. I was also taken less seriously, and was told that my accomplishments were due to external factors rather than my own talents. I grew tired of those comments over the past few years and brushed most of it off, because they’re a huge waste of my time and energy. Instead, I took matters into my own hands and decided to write papers and publish stories on my own without letting anything block my way. I personally did not have a lot of female role models in the scientific industry when I made this decision, so I wanted to serve as a role model for other young women who are going through a similar journey.
On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Megan Yu: I have seen a lot of examples where girls or young people hold themselves back because they did not want to disappoint their superiors or trap themselves in very toxic situations. We are all so much more capable and stronger than we allow ourselves to be. I have found the best way to achieve your dreams and to accomplish anything in life is to invest in yourself by taking care of yourself, knowing what you really want to do, setting your goals, and going out there to achieve those goals without letting anything getting in your way.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Megan Yu: Definitely Lea Michele (for those of you who don’t know her, she plays the role of Rachel Berry on Glee). I personally related to her and her character in a very big way, and she is perhaps the biggest dreamer I know. She has gone through a lot of criticisms tragic situations, including the death of her boyfriend, but she did not let them get in the way of her dreams. She was the one who prompted me to invest in myself, and I strive to emulate her as I pursue my medical dreams.
What are your favorite books, films, websites and resources related to women’s empowerment, social impact and international development?
Megan Yu: I personally don’t know a lot of books and films about female empowerment and simply strive to emulate Lea Michele as I move on in my life. I know that a lot of the things that I am currently doing, such as health policy research, blogging, and narrative medicine, has already made an impact, and I can only hope that other people will attempt to do the same with the activities that they personally enjoy.