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Arnold School of Public Health

December graduate continues health data research as postdoctoral fellow at Mayo Clinic

December 22, 2022 | Erin Bluvas,

Yuqi Wu’s path to public health began at home. Growing up in China, many of her family members worked in the health field. One uncle is a famous kidney transplant surgeon while an aunt is a pharmacist. Her grandfather served as dean for a hospital, and her grandmother worked at China’s version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I admired their service in public health, and it seeded my own dream about being a health researcher,” Wu says. “With the increasing issue of the aging population in China and the ongoing pandemics in the world, I confirmed that public health is the career I have enthusiasm with and its multidisciplinary nature also suits my educational background.”

That multidisciplinary background began with two bachelor’s degrees from Tianjin Normal University: one in international economics and trade and the other in Chinese language and literature. As her undergraduate tenure wrapped up, Wu began looking for opportunities to study abroad.

At the University of Missouri, she enrolled in a Master of Public Affairs program because it combined her two undergraduate degrees. After seeing the overlap of coursework with the Master of Public Health program, she decided to complete both degrees. In parallel, she gained practical experience as an intern with the City of Columbia’s community development efforts and with a community-based research program at her university’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

As Wu began looking for doctoral programs, she noticed that many public health faculty members had terminal degrees from USC. She investigated further and was impressed by the Arnold school’s rankings, resources and areas of expertise. A great conversation with health services policy and management (HSPM) professor/doctoral program director Sudha Xirasagar (who would serve as her advisor) and a Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellowship offer cemented her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in HSPM.

“I am deeply grateful to Dr. Xirasagar, my advisor and committee chair, for her academic and scholarly mentorship and proxy parental guidance throughout the six years,” Wu says. “She has been my role model who mentored and guided me to learn many complex research methodologies and challenged me to go for a complicated, upcoming new field of artificial intelligence and machine learning application in public health. I will continue to be inspired by her spirit of scientific inquiry and eagerness to find the truth and empirical evidence to guide policy making and practice for improving public health.”

During her program, Wu served a Xirasagar’s research assistant, working on several National Institutes of Health-funded projects. With support from several travel awards, she has presented findings from their research at national and international conferences – twice receiving the Best Student Paper Award at the annual American Public Health Association conference.

Wu’s own interests focus on health care and translational research using statistical regression and big data analytics (e.g., machine learning) methods. Her work involves analyzing structured (e.g., surveys) and unstructured (e.g., electronic health records, social media) data to improve cancer prevention, chronic disease management, health disparities and clinical/surgical outcomes. She also conducts community-based public health promotion and intervention programs.

After serving as a biostatistics intern at Mayo Clinic’s Department of Artificial Intelligence and Informatics Research this year, Wu received an offer to stay on as a postdoctoral research fellow. There, she will continue her health data research at the Clinic's School of Medicine.

“I want to use the knowledge and abilities I gained from the Arnold School to practice in the real world and to get myself ready with skills of creating new research ideas, initiating projects and writing grants,” Wu says. “In the long term, I hope to be a faculty member to mentor students and lead them to conduct research with cutting-edge perspectives and help people with diverse social determinants and unmet needs.”

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