What are your key roles and responsibilities in your current positions? What do you like most about your job and what do you find most challenging? 

My key roles include conducting cancer health services research through internal and external collaborations, mentoring junior staff and student interns, disseminate research findings at national and international conferences, and supporting colleagues in their advocacy efforts related to access to care.

What I like most about my job is the environment to identify important topics and conduct high-quality research with a diverse disciplinary team. Within the American Cancer Society, I have the opportunity to disseminate research findings to inform health policies and practice with the goal of improving care for patients and their families.

What I find most challenging is balancing priorities, especially with so many pressing policy-related issues demanding attention. For example, I am currently engaged in multiple projects related to Medicaid expansion, reproductive laws, palliative care, and medical debt, in relation to cancer care and patient outcomes. Each of them fascinates me. However, effective prioritization, often challenging, is required to optimize my productivity and efficiency.


List or describe the top 5+ professional skills that are crucial to your role. 

  1. Study design
  2. Data analysis
  3. Scientific writing
  4. Research presentation
  5. Mentoring
  6. Project management
  7. Time management
  8. Effective cross-team and multidisciplinary collaboration
  9. Problem solving

How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory? For example, what skills and/or experiences did you acquire that have contributed to your career success? 

First, I obtained strong training in study design, data analysis and scientific writing at Yale School of Public Health, especially in cancer epidemiology, which laid a foundation for my career success as a cancer researcher. My dissertation work on non-Hodgkin lymphoma led me to a prestigious fellowship from the American Institute for Cancer Research, which supported my continued research and training in another top public health program at the UNC-Chapel Hill. I now have a research position at the American Cancer Society, where I was able to thrive as a cancer health services researcher examining health policies and other factors associated with cancer care and patient outcomes.

The knowledge and experience that I acquired at Yale, both from my dissertation work and my research assistantship, spanned a spectrum of essential skills including grant writing, data linkages, data analysis, scientific writing, presenting at international conferences, and communicating with media outlets. These experiences and related skills have been foundational throughout my career.

Second, studying in such an esteemed school provides unique networking opportunities. For example, while I was a PhD student at Yale School of Public Health, I helped found an organization called China Health Policy and Management Society, as the representative from Yale, with a group of scholars from other public health schools in the US (eg, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago) who were interested in promoting public health in China. This organization has now grown into an international platform for over 3000 scholar and researchers all over the world. By founding and developing this organization, I have connected with peers, mentors, collaborators, and friends who have become trusted colleagues in pursuing shared interests throughout my career.

Furthermore, after graduation, the alumni network remains a valuable resource. I frequently encounter exceptional alumni and have had the opportunity to forge strong collaborations with them.

Finally, I consider the most important to be the belief in the potential for positive changes and compassion for marginalized populations, a mindset nurtured during my time at Yale. For example, I enjoyed attending open seminars of the Yale World Fellow program, hearing the fellows’ stories, and later became friends with a few of them. The intimate interactions with these remarkable fellows and other pragmatic idealists at Yale instilled in me a conviction in social justice. The compassion and conviction ingrained at Yale have been the backbone of my professional endeavors, driving me to conduct research aimed at improving the lives of disadvantaged populations. Moreover, they have extended into my personal life, leading me to actively seek opportunities to contribute to community betterment.


What were the biggest challenges that you faced when transitioning to different workplaces and cultures? What advice and suggestions can you offer to current students to help them prepare for those challenges?

The biggest challenge occurred when I transitioned from China to Yale, the different education systems, social norms, and language barriers struck me in the first couple of years. My suggestion to current students, especially international students, is to take care of your mental health and never hesitate to reach out for help. Your Director of Graduate Studies, the Mental Health & Counseling services, the Office of International Students & Scholars, senior students, supportive faculty, may all provide help. At times, work can become so consuming that you may be tempted to dedicate every minute to it, neglecting your mental well-being and losing sight of the bigger picture. If you feel something is amiss, don’t ignore those feelings and hope they will simply go away on their own. Instead, reach out for assistance and support. By the way, my sister Xuemei Han, another Yale alumnus, and myself wrote an article for the Journal of American College Health according to a mental health survey we did at Yale (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23305539/), where we offered some thoughts and suggestions to international students, particularly Chinese international students, as well as to faculty and school mental health programs on how to best support international students.

After Yale, when I transitioned to UNC-Chapel Hill and then to the American Cancer Society (ACS), I can only be grateful for the research environment, the mentorship, and the colleagues. The biggest challenge was the decision-making between a career in an academic versus a non-profit research setting. At the end of my fellowship at UNC-Chapel Hill, I had the option to stay as a faculty there, or to take a research position at ACS, a non-profit organization. There was quite a bit of soul searching, consulting with mentors, and discussion with family members—because they did not only mean distinct working environments and career trajectories, but also different lifestyles. Today I am glad for my decision because it did work for me better holistically. I have had more flexibility and ability to identify and answer timely policy-relevant questions with less funding constraints than working in academia. At ACS, researchers communicate with policy and advocacy colleagues frequently, which allows us to learn about the important policy questions early and conduct our research in a timely manner to inform policy makers. For example, my studies showing benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on health outcomes across the cancer continuum were widely cited in the past decade, including in the amicus brief for the California v Texas case heard before the US Supreme court, upholding the ACA in 2021. Therefore, my suggestion to current students is to think about these options early, talk to alumni, and if possible, try out opportunities in non-academic settings (eg, NPO, industry, local, state, or federal government) through internships.

Work Experience
STEM PhD Pathways
Connect on LinkedIn