Interview Series

We have included an interview series of a few of the amazing people that work on this study!

Lydia Liu 

Sydney: Hi, I am here today with Lydia Liu and have the pleasure of interviewing her. First off, thank you so much for joining me. I would love to get to know a little more about you. Where are you from?

Lydia: I am originally from China. I grew up in China and completed college at People’s University in Beijing, China. I then came to the United States in 1996 when I was accepted to Iowa State University for my Master’s in Statistics and Economics. I had to borrow money from a friend to buy a one-way ticket from Beijing to Des Moines and came to America with no more than 100 dollars in my wallet. Once I graduated, I was hired by Eric Rimm and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study in February of 2000. I have been working with the group ever since, so it’s almost been 20 years!

Sydney: That’s amazing. What made you decide to study Statistics and Economics?

Lydia: This was largely because of my father. My father grew up during a great starvation that plagued China between 1960-1962. During this time, my father’s family was affected by starvation, and he lost his father and one of his younger brothers to it. His mother too grew very ill and weak because of inadequate access to food during this time. My father had always been a good student, but once the famine hit during his middle school years, he stopped going to school. He took his younger brother, and they travelled around China begging for just enough food to survive. After a few months of begging for food, my father and his brother came back home. One day, my father had a visitor at the door, and it was his middle school teacher. He had asked where my father had been all those months and encouraged him to come back to school. My father said he wanted nothing more than to come back to school but that he needed food his family, and that was the priority. His middle school teacher said that he could secure my father a small scholarship to pay for food if he agreed to return to school, which my father did. Afterwards, my father pursued technical school because he knew he would have a job after the two years of schooling. He became a coal miner after his training and worked in the mine for many years. During his mining years, he would study mathematics on the side. He was studying high school level math whenever he wasn’t working. In these mining communities, many had schools that were educating the miner’s children. One day, the school in his local community had a job opening for a middle school mathematics teacher. Even though my father never completed high school, he applied for the job. He took the test to ensure he understood the math necessary to teach, and they gave him the job where he was a teacher for thirty years. My father also managed to take on-TV courses while working full time and got a bachelor degree in Mathematics from a college in his thirties. Through my father, I learned to love mathematics from a young age. When I was applying for college, I asked my father what he thought I should study, and he said statistics. He believed that statistics would provide me with good skills that would be transferrable to any job.

Sydney: What an incredible story about your family, so you completed college at People’s University in Beijing and then came and got your Master’s at the Iowa State University. What made you decide to come to Boston thereafter and come work for the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Lydia: During my Master’s degree, I was a work study student. I held a research assistant position for three years and worked in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University. I also did my thesis in nutrition, and I felt like coming to the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study was a great mix of all of my interests.

Sydney: What is your role within the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Lydia: I have many roles within the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study as well as within the department. I work with many different people from principal investigators, to graduate students, to post docs and research fellows. My main role is to do statistical analyses for the many projects and grants that the principal investigators conduct. I also help teach and mentor students and post-docs to learn the computing system at the Channing, and if they have any programming problems, I am a resource to help them. I also do program reviews for any projects that use Health Professionals Follow-Up Study data.

Sydney: What is a program review?

Lydia: Harvard has a number of internal validation steps that a researcher must complete to even submit their project to a journal. Basically, it is a way to ensure that the programs were run correctly, that the numbers reported in the paper accurately match the outputs of the programs, and that there are no parts of the paper that can’t be justified or verified. In my opinion, the multiple step internal review process has only ensured that we produce high quality research papers.

Sydney: What has been your favorite memory of working for the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study thus far?

Lydia: It is really rewarding to do a statistical analysis and to come to a result that can be helpful to the public. It’s great to know that your work can have an impact on so many people. That is what I love about public health research more broadly as well. It is really motivating to do work that you know can impact people at the population level. I will also say that the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study has a great working group. Dr. Willett has built a team where everyone works together towards the same goal, and that goal is to help people. People are so supportive, appreciative, and smart here, and it is because of the people and the work that I have stayed for nearly 20 years.

Sydney: I do agree; the people working on this study are truly wonderful. We will end the interview with one last question, what is one fun fact about yourself that very few people know?

Lydia: I have taken Chinese painting classes every Sunday for the last three years. I take my children to Chinese school in Newton on Sundays because I want them to stay connected to Chinese culture. While my kids are in class, the school also has classes for the parents. They offer so many classes like dance, exercise, painting, and yoga for example.  I started out by taking a dance class at the school, but then I switched to painting 3 years ago. I fell in love with it because it is incredibly therapeutic to me. It feels a lot like meditating in that I can completely focus on painting and let any other worries or thoughts leave my mind for a bit.

Sydney: I see all the beautiful paintings on the wall. You are a very talented artist. Thank you so much for joining me today. I really enjoyed getting to know you.

Ruifeng Li

Sydney: Ruifeng is here today with me to talk about her involvement in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. First off, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to speak with me.

Ruifeng: I am so glad that we could set up a time to speak.

Sydney: Where are you from?

Ruifeng: I am from Central Mainland China originally. I then went to Peking University in China before I came to the United States in 1997 when I began graduate school in Minnesota.

Sydney: What is one fun fact about yourself that few people know?

Ruifeng: Before I had children, I watched tons of American sitcoms such as MASH, Seinfeld, and the Simpsons. It may be an unpopular opinion, but I never liked the show Friends. I also have three children. I have a fourteen-year-old son and twins, a girl and a boy, who are now ten years old. I love to cook, knit, do yoga, and take Zumba classes.

Sydney: I will have to disagree with you on the fact that you didn’t like Friends. I love that show. From those who are reading this interview online, Ruifeng has some photos of her family on her phone, and her family is quite musical.

Ruifeng: Yes, my husband plays the piano, and all my children play string instruments as well. They really enjoy playing instruments.

Sydney: You must have music playing in your house all the time. How nice! What did you study/where did you work prior to joining the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Ruifeng: I studied at Peking University for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in mathematical logic and taught in college before I came to the United States for my Ph.D. in the same field. I did not finish my Ph.D. but did get a second Master’s degree in biostatistics. I came to Harvard in 2001 and have been working as a biostatistician in Donna Spiegelman’s group ever since 2016.

Sydney: How long have you been with the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Ruifeng: I have been working with this group for a few years. I have been involved in the grant renewal process though and have done some analyses for the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study since I joined Donna Spiegelman’s group.

Sydney: What is your role within the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Ruifeng: My main role within the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study is data preparation and data analysis.

Sydney: What is the most interesting data analysis you have done?

Ruifeng: I worked on a project that looked at meat substitutions and risk of cardiovascular disease. Our findings have showed that substituting red meat with other high-quality proteins like chicken, tofu, soybeans, and nuts can lower your risk of adverse cardiovascular events.

Sydney: That is so interesting. What is your favorite memory so far from working for the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Ruifeng: I love the people here. I will always remember the BBQ party we once had at Lorelei Mucci’s house. She made a kale salad that I still think about to this day. I also love the Yankee swap that the group puts on each year. We also really look out for each other and value each other. Just a few months ago, we had a birthday party for Mercedes. It is nice to be a part of a group that values spending time with each other outside of work as well as during the work hours.

Sydney: I have heard so much about this kale salad from so many people. It really must have been a good salad if people are talking this highly of kale. Thank you so much for taking the time to interview with me today. I had a great time getting to know you.

Steven Stuart 

Sydney: Thank you so much for joining us today for an interview. We will start out with an easy question, what is your name?

Steven: My name is Steven Stuart. I think I nailed that question.

Sydney: Me too! Where are you from?

Steven: I am originally from Kingston, Jamaica, but I then moved to London, England with my family. I came to the United States to pursue my undergraduate education in New Hampshire at Dartmouth College. I moved to Massachusetts in 1987 where I had some connections and was on a practical training visa that allows you to stay and work for a year, and that is when I began work with the Channing Lab.

Sydney: What is one fun fact about yourself that few people know?

Steven: I love to go out and socialize in my free time. I don’t know if that is a fun fact though so I will also say that I love to travel and play soccer. I really love to travel though.

Sydney: Traveling is amazing. What is your favorite place you have travelled to so far?

Steven: That is so hard. I don’t know if I can just pick one.

Sydney: Why not tell us a few of your favorite places you have traveled then?

Steven: I would have to say Bali, Thailand, and India have probably been my favorites, but it is so hard because there are so many incredible places in the world to see.

Sydney: What did you study/where did you work prior to the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Steven: I studied computer science at Dartmouth College during my undergraduate years. I then went on to pursue my Master’s degree at Northeastern in computer science. As I had mentioned earlier, after school when I was looking for employment, I had a few connections in the Massachusetts area. One of these connections helped me get my first job at the Channing where I was a full-time programmer working mainly on the Nurses’ Health Study, another Harvard based cohort. I had always collaborated with Health Professionals Follow-Up Study throughout my time at Harvard, but it was not until about a year ago that I began to seriously work with this cohort.

Sydney: What made it so that you went from collaborating with to working for the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Steven: The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study had used some of the software that I had developed for the other Harvard based cohort. They needed extra programming help so asked that my involvement become more permanent.

Sydney: Can you very basically describe the software you developed and how it is being used in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study?

Steven: The software system is what I would most generally classify as being database software. It has the ability to maintain the large datasets that cohorts generate. It incorporates many applications (including its own language) that you can use for large cohorts, which makes it particularly helpful for the large Harvard based cohorts. The software is mainly used for disease follow up, data collection and maintaining nutrition databases within these cohorts.

Sydney: What is your favorite memory so far from working for the Health Professional Follow-Up Study?

Steven: That is an easy question. It is most certainly the people I have met here. It is just a really great group of people working on an excellent study, and we all have a lot of fun here.

Sydney: The people are incredible here that is for sure. Those were all the questions I had for today, but thank you so much for joining me today for an interview.