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A Good Cup of Coffee Kickstarts This Researcher’s Day

November 14, 2022

From southeast China, Dr. Xue Hao, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Rugang Zhang lab at The Wistar Institute, is tackling ovarian cancer. With a degree in Applied Chemistry from Nanjing Agriculture University and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Hao brings a unique perspective to Wistar science. She is currently focused on ovarian cancer relapse after chemotherapy by targeting a process called cellular senescence – biological aging of cells and subsequent loss of cell function.

In a conversation with Dr. Hao, Wistar discussed the journey to her current role at the Institute, being a researcher from another country, and where her research will take her.

Did you come from a family of scientists? Who inspired you growing up to pursue science?

None of my family members are scientists. When I was in college, I watched the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’, a biographical film inspired by the American mathematician John Nash. John was an enthusiastic scientist who struggled with schizophrenia. However, he worked hard and made tremendous contributions to game theory. In 1994, John Nash was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. I was deeply touched by the last scene in the film where many scientists placed their pens on John’s table to show their highest respect for him. His passion for science inspired me a lot and I hope that someday my work can inspire others and contribute to scientific development.

What drew you to Wistar and what do you like about working here?

When I decided to continue with postdoctoral training, I was very interested in the aging and cancer research field, as global aging is an increasingly serious problem. This field is undergoing robust development and has fundamental clinical implications. Professor Rugang Zhang’s lab met my interests because it is focused on both cellular senescence and epigenetic regulation of ovarian cancer. The lab had so many beautifully rigorous papers published, so I eagerly wanted to join the team.

Also, I had several previous colleagues who worked at Wistar. Their positive comments about the Institute also drew me here. I receive high-quality training that enables me to be competitive across academia. I’ve been here for three years, and I’m very glad that I made a great decision to come to Wistar.

Are there any differences or unique experiences you’ve had working in science in the U.S. compared to China?

There is a major difference with time management. When I worked in China years ago, we usually had a longer lunch time. Many people took a nap after lunch and started to work again at around 13:30 p.m. and then went back home later than I see in the U.S.

What is your favorite part of your role and your day?

As an early bird in the morning, I usually list a daily plan while enjoying coffee. A great cup of coffee can lighten my whole day’s work!

Do you have a challenging moment in your career so far and how did you overcome it?

There have been many challenging moments in my career. I don’t have an epigenetics background, so in the very beginning, I found it hard to move forward with my project both conceptually and technically. I just needed to get the ball rolling. I am lucky that my mentor and lab members are always ready to help. I learned a lot from them, and everything became better.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue science?

There are no shortcuts to learning. Intellectual curiosity is the most important thing on the road to pursuing science. The rest is a matter of practice by reading, writing, speaking your mind, and doing experiments.

Congratulations on receiving the Wistar Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Travel award! What does this opportunity mean for you?

Thank you! I’m very happy and truly honored. I am quite encouraged and more confident about the direction of my work after receiving this Travel Award from Wistar. It supports my trip to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) special meeting where I’m invited to give a talk about my current work. I will take this opportunity as a great kickstart to my next journey in academia. Again, I sincerely thank Wistar for this award!