What I do: As the MIDAS Executive Director, I oversee the operations of the institute and the staff team. I also design programs and projects to enable groundbreaking research, build interdisciplinary teams, strengthen research skills, improve the rigor and reproducibility of research, and ensure the responsible use of data and AI, all for the purpose of maximizing the scientific impact of data science and AI. In addition, I build partnerships with academia, industry, government and community organizations, both for research collaboration and for maximizing the societal impact of data science and AI. Working with colleagues at data science institutes across universities, I seek to improve how academic researchers adopt the rapidly evolving data and AI methodologies, and support data- and AI-enabled decision making in the public and private sectors.
I also co-direct our two postdoctoral training programs, the Michigan Data Science Fellows Program; and the Eric and Wendy Schmidt AI in Science Postdoctoral Fellowship, a Schmidt Futures Program.
My research interest includes examining the data science and AI research infrastructure and research rigor and reproducibility, and using data and AI to support decision making.
Recent fun projects: I lead MIDAS effort to enable reproducible data science and AI research and open science, through gathering best practices and tools from researchers and developing central resources and training. Researchers are familiar with the concepts of open science and reproducible research, but they often lack resources, time, and even skills to turn such concepts into action. To me, this is a challenging but important problem to solve. With a new grant from the National Institutes of Health, I lead a multi-university team to develop a nationwide program to train faculty and staff researchers to improve the rigor and reproducibility of biomedical data science research.
As generative AI “storms” the world stage, we are developing resources and training, coordinating with other universities as well as industry and government, and enabling the use of generative AI to vastly accelerate the research process and start a brand new research model. One particularly fun project is the generative AI Coast-to-Coast (C2C) webinar series that gather experts from across universities to explore how generative AI can be best used to enhance scientific research.
Who I am: I am a scientist by training. I received my PhD degree from the California Institute of Technology, where I studied how animal development is shaped by genetic factors and the molecular signaling pathways, with Dr. Paul Sternberg as my mentor. Caltech was a special place for me, where I had endless discussions with my fellow students and professors – often into the wee hours of the morning – about all kinds of exciting (and sometimes “crazy”) science ideas and let our imaginations take flight. I did my postdoc training at Stanford University with Dr. Bill Newsome, using electrophysiology and psychophysics to study the neural mechanism of visual motion perception and cognition. During my training, I became fluent in statistics and coding, and started exploring AI (very new to visual neuroscience at the time). After a short stint as a faculty member at the University of Michigan, I moved to research administration because what I truly enjoy is to see “the big picture” and to contribute to science in a broad way.
Why I’m passionate about my work: Humans have used data for thousands of years, but the unprecedented amount of data and the breathtaking AI methods that we have now expose us to incredibly rich possibilities. I am enjoying my work everyday because I’m helping to unleash the potential of data science and AI to advance science and to benefit society. Data and AI are becoming an integral part of policy making across all types of organizations and will shape human society in profound ways. As a scientist, I feel the excitement and a sense of duty to help ensure that data and AI are a positive force in our society, not a new way to cause harm.
Fun facts: In addition to science, I am also passionate about reading and music. I also write and translate about science and education, and have received multiple awards including China Book Award and China National Library Book Award. My favorite piece of volunteer work was that I built a math club and taught for 8 years at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School (Ann Arbor), where I got to show the kids how much fun math can be and how amazing they can be at math.