Member Insight – Yeyi Zhu

What sparked your decision to become an epidemiologist?

In the early years of my PhD study, I was a research assistant doing data collection in the field for a formative research study as part of the National Children’s Study. One day during the study interview, the mother of a 4-year old who was born preterm expressed her great anxiety and concern regarding her son’s health and development because she was once told by others her son might fall behind his peers. She was desperate to know more about the potential adverse impact of preterm birth and approaches to mitigating such risk. That moment certainly sparkled my interest in learning more about developmental origins of disease and life course epidemiology.

What kind of research are you doing and why do you think it’s important?

My overarching research interests center on the DOHaD hypothesis and identifying potentially modifiable early life factors to improve women’s reproductive outcomes and offspring health outcomes throughout the life span. In particular, nutritional and environmental perturbations during pregnancy has been linked to fetal development and obesity risk in later life. Therefore, it is of great clinical and public health significance to identify modifiable intrauterine factors which may potentially interrupt the vicious cycle between maternal pathophysiology and offspring cardiometabolic impairments and promote a healthy early start in life. Currently, with my colleagues at Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, we are working on two cohorts as part of the NIH Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program aiming to study the impact of early life environmental exposures (broadly defined, including physical, chemical, biological, social, behavioral, etc.) on child health and development.

Why did you join SER? What keeps you coming back?

SER is my professional home. Every time I come home from the SER annual meeting, I feel inspired and energized, carrying away many ideas for current and future research projects. When I was in graduate school, the SER workshop was an event that I looked forward so much to receiving advanced epidemiological training from top-notch epidemiologists with expertise ranging from methods to career development. I’ve found that SER is unique from other professional societies which may have the annual meeting as the major (if not the only) event during the year – our SER provides diverse and rich resources for members to learn and interact throughout the year (i.e., SERdigital, SERexperts, SERforum, etc.).

What advice do you give students who want to become epidemiologists?

Explore opportunities at different sectors and follow your passion. Join the Student & Post-Doc Committee (SPC) – find your home place and meet your peer fellows at SER. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and think out of the box!

Outside of epidemiology what do you enjoy doing?

I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I like outdoor activities, particularly hiking and exploring the beautiful state where I live now, California.

What is something that not many people know about you?

I love curries, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian…styles, you name it. Another fact not many people know could be that I obtained a first-authored patent on a non-invasive minute-amount DNA extraction kit in college, which has been successfully applied to over 5,000 participants in the Genographic Project Southeast Asia Region.