Dr. Yu-Ya Liang, on learning through unexpected challenges

Photo credit: James Santiago

Dr. Yu-Ya Liang, on learning through unexpected challenges

Interview by Katie Yoest, PhD

Katie Yoest Tell us about your background and what led you to become a postdoc at Michigan State University.

I am originally from Taiwan. I studied Agronomy and Law as an undergrad. I did my internship in two international agricultural research institutes, The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC), Shanhua, Taiwan and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheruvu, India. That’s how I found my passion for agricultural research and working with international team. I got my master’s degree in genetics and plant breeding at National Taiwan University and then came to the U.S. for my PhD.

What was the reason to choose MSU to do your postdoc? 

My graduate research mainly focused on molecular biology, genetics, and plant breeding. I found that I need to improve bioinformatics and programming skills before I become an independent scientist. Therefore, I applied for my current position to fulfill my desired skill set. Besides, I grow up in a tropical island and had never seen snow and “winter”.

How has your experience as a postdoc here been so far? 

My postdoc experience has largely been affected by the pandemic. Little bit different than what I expected but overall very positive. I have learned a lot from my current research and feel very supportive by PI, department, and the entire MSU community. My only complaint is I haven’t attended any scientific conference after being a postdoc.

You’re currently the chair of the PDA, what made you get involved and how has your participation in the PDA impacted your experience at MSU?

When I just came to MSU, my colleague invited me to attend a PDA social event and invited me to join PDA. We were the only two postdocs in our lab and we normally don’t have grad students. I wanted to meet new people and know more about MSU so I decided to join the PDA. I didn’t have any preference on which subcommittee to join, as long as I can do something to help, so I got assigned to the Social subcommittee. It was a little hard at the beginning since I am not good at hosting events and networking. But I have improved and decided to stay for another term. Somehow, I became the most experienced person in the PDA last year, so the previous chair asked me to serve as the chair before she left, which was completely not in my plan.

The experience in the PDA allows me to develop communications skills and opportunities to work with different administrative units in the university. After joining the PDA, I realized that there is no free lunch. Many people worked very hard to make what we have (benefits, system, minimum salary, etc) today and there are still a lot need to be done to make a better postdoc community at MSU.

What is your long-term career plan? 

My top choice is to be a PI in an international agricultural institute, my second choice is to be a PI in a research university, and my third choice is to work for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The overall goal of my career is to pass knowledge to the next generation and end hunger.

What do you hope to achieve in the next year, in all aspects of life?

I haven’t been home and seen my family since the pandemic. I hope I can visit them soon and perhaps have a more permanent job.

What is your advice on how MSU postdocs can get the most out of their experience here? 

Try everything and experience everything! Sometimes you need to give yourself a push to discover the unknown (I don’t mean research or science) and things that you are not good at.

To wrap it up, and to know more about you, tell me what comes to mind first in this rapid round of questions!

Favorite food – Taiwanese street food!!

Favorite way to spend a day off – Any outdoor activity, watching movies, brewing beer.

Favorite holiday – Back in Taiwan, Lunar New Year. Now, Christmas.

Favorite place you ever visited or lived – Iceland (visited)

Job you would do if it wasn’t research – Pilot, chef, lawyer, wildlife photographer, zookeeper, archaeologist, mountaineer. There are a lot of jobs on my list. I can probably fill out another page.