Scientista Spotlight: Greetchen Diaz, PhD., NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Nebraska Center for Virology (University of Nebraska, Lincoln)
The ‘Bio’ and the ‘Tech’ Behind Biotech: How Much Science Should You Know to Become a STEM Entrepreneur? An Interview with Nanxi Liu, CEO and Founder of Enplug
Editor's Note: We’ve all heard of the scientist-turned-tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg. But what if you want to break into fields like biotechnology and tech without that BS or PhD in STEM? How much science do you really need to know, and where should you learn it?
Scientista sat down with Nanxi Liu, a business-major-turned-STEM-entrepreneur. At the age of 23, she has already co-founded two biotechnology companies—Enplug Inc., recently featured in the Wall Street Journal, and Nanoly Bioscience. Read on to learn how she did it.
By Vijayalakshmi Kalyanaraman
Though Liu majored in business at UC Berkeley, her passion for biotech drove her to spend countless hours teaching herself biology and computer programming, along with a number of other interesting skills.
While she was still an undergraduate, Liu co-founded Nanoly Bioscience, a biotech firm that develops polymers to prevent the denaturization of vaccines. In 2012, she founded her second company—a technology company called Enplug Inc. that creates and manages a network of electronic billboards. Both companies’ products require advanced engineering and research skills.
Originally Published April 17, 2012
By Soyini Taylor
Marina Masciale, originally from Corpus Christi, TX, is a first year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine. She has travelled to Argentina as a volunteer, is a certified EMT, and has travelled across Europe playing her ukulele. Let’s learn about what inspires and makes this medical scientista tick.
1. What inspires/excites you about the medical field? Have you always wanted to be a doctor?
The human body is so fascinating and complex. The more I learn, the more I dive into the rabbit hole, so to speak, and the more curious I become. It is incredible how our bodies are put together to make “us”.
I have wanted to be a doctor since I was little. I had surgery for a hernia when I was a kid and I loved how comfortable the doctor made me feel and how knowledgeable he was about my condition. As far as a specialty, I’m thinking of pediatrics because kids are our future and promoting a healthy lifestyle for children will prevent illness when they’re adults.
2. Describe your typical day as a medical student.
Baylor is nice in the fact that classroom time is always between 8am to 12pm. Right now, we’re concentrating on the brain and infectious diseases (at Baylor, subject material is separated into blocks, each dedicated to an organ system). We’re learning about anything and everything that can infect the body and how to treat it! After class, I may go and work out, if I have time. Medical school is like a job, in that I study for as much time as someone spends at work. At Baylor, we take one and a half years of classes and 2 and half years of clinicals. Sometimes, we have afternoon classes and/or shadow doctors.
3. I read about your participation in the Loewenstern Fellowship and about the Goliard Scholarship that you received. Can you describe them both in more detail? What were your main takeaways from them?
For the Loewenstern fellowship, applicants write about where they’d like to volunteer and why. Then, the participant chooses a third-party organization to make his or her project happen. For my fellowship, I went through a program called “Projects Abroad” in the summer of 2010.
I went to Argentina to volunteer in the pediatrics wing of a hospital in Cordoba. I ended up spending most of my time in the neonatal wing, which really inspired me to look into neonatology as a career, since I fell in love with taking care of the babies. In the mornings, I would help feed them, change their diapers, and transport them for tests. I would also teach parents how to feed their children. Then in the afternoons, I would take a bus to “Eva Peron Orphanage,” where either the kids were taken from their parents because of physical/sexual abuse or the parents didn’t have resources to keep the children. I couldn’t understand why the kids were abused because of how precious they are. I spent a lot of my time just giving these kids a lot of love. Parents could visit their children but only for a few hours. Also, Projects Abroad saw that the condition of the orphanage was dirty and unsanitary, so they helped renovate some of the rooms.
On weekends, I travelled to different places in Argentina including Buenos Aires, Iguazú Falls, wine country, etc. While in Argentina, I stayed with a host family and I still stay in touch with them to this day. My Spanish improved drastically from the experience. The World Cup was also going on while I was there, which was amazing, especially when Argentina was winning. Literally everything stopped in the country when the Argentinean team was playing. Anytime they scored a point, confetti was dumped out the window to celebrate. Great experience!
The story of the Goliard Scholarship is that a few alumni from Rice put together $2,000 to give to a student who has a crazy idea to do something globally. My idea was to play the ukulele with street performers across Europe which made me the Goliard Travel Scholar for 2011.
The ukulele is easy to learn to play and since I have really small hands it’s easier to play than the guitar. I’m not a very good player but I had a blast. I went to Spain, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria. My sister was our videographer and my boyfriend also came along. So anytime we would see a street performer, I would figure out what chords he was playing and play with him. I had a fantastic time! This was a scholarship I didn’t think I would get because I applied the night before its deadline on a whim. So it shows you never know what you can get or do unless you try.
4. What tips do you have for aspiring premed Scientistas for getting into medical school (Application process, interviews)? What would you have done differently?
My situation is a little different from most people since I applied to the Rice-Baylor Medical Scholars Program directly from high school. If you get into the program as a freshman, you don’t have to take the MCAT or do applications, but are instead accepted into Baylor College of Medicine upon completion of college.
My tip to aspiring pre-med Scientistas is to work hard to find things that they are passionate about. So many people at medical school are doing things to boost their resume but they are not passionate about them and it shows. It is important to find something you’re passionate about and go for it. This makes your medical school application stronger because it shows a lot of your personality and what makes you unique.
In high school, I volunteered in a program dedicated to the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. The program takes sea turtle eggs from the beach and incubates the eggs to make sure they hatch. As a volunteer, I helped take care of the eggs by making sure they had the proper amount of moisture, heat, etc. We also dissected those that didn’t hatch to see what stage of fetal development they were in and to see what went wrong. I really loved this experience and I was really passionate about it. When the eggs hatched, I felt so inspired. It may take some time to figure out what that “thing” is for each person but it is definitely worth it once you do.
Another tip would be to find a mentor. Donna Shaver, the supervisor of the turtle project, became a role model to me. A mentor can help motivate you and help you navigate towards your goals. Also a mentor can help write a strong recommendation when it’s time for the application process, since he or she knows you personally.
5. What is one thing you wish you had known about medical school before entering?
That medical school is definitely doable. You hear so many horror stories. ‘You won’t have a life.’ ‘All you do is study.’ I was really scared about going to medical school but I found out anyone can do it. If you appropriate your time, you’ll be fine. A lot of people feel only the smartest people can go to medical school. Not true. The information taught is not complex. You just need to put in the time to learn it. While I know it is fun to complain about medical school, it is doable. I could also be saying this because it’s only my first year but it’s been great so far. I have made lots of great friends and met lots of brilliant people.
6. Why do you think organizations such as Scientista are important? Why do you think it is important for women (and people in general) to go into medicine?
Women think about things differently from men. Some people say men and women are the same and can do the same things. Yes, men and women can do the same things but we have different perspectives. Having these different perspectives helps us to challenge each other and round out the learning environment in a classroom. Women should not be afraid to pursue a field because it is male dominated. Lots of fields could benefit and progress if they had the perspective of a woman.
7. When you’re not being a medical scientista, what do you do for fun? How do you regenerate or decompress?
I work out, jam out on the ukulele, hang out with friends or watch a movie with my family. I love watching movies. Just saw the Star Wars movies (Episodes 4, 5, 6 and 1). I hope to watch Episodes 2 and 3 soon. My sister goes to Rice, so I spend a lot of my free time with her as family is very important to me. I also love to play tennis because it’s for any skill level and is a lifelong sport. I was on the team in high school and I still love to play. Also, Houston, TX has so many things going on. I can go to the rodeo or the King Tut exhibit. There’s always something going in Houston which is great compared to Corpus Christi, where I’m from.
Meet our Scientista Spotlights -- current-day women in STEM and women from science history -- and find your role model! Read opinion editorials and history pieces to get additional inspiration.
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