This feature introduces some of the outstanding people who have participated in the IAPHS Mentoring Program. The program connects individuals needing advice on career-building in population health to mentors willing to help them along.
In this Mentoring Spotlight, we feature mentor Yan Li and mentee Sicong (Summer) Sun. Yan is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Population Health Science and Policy, and Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is also the Director of the Health Policy Modeling Laboratory and a member of the Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute at Mount Sinai. Summer is a PhD candidate at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her Master of Social Work degree in 2017 from the Brown School, where her concentration was in Social and Economic Development with a specialization in Research.
Summer was hoping to find a mentor who could help her formulate and implement her transdisciplinary research agenda. She expressed a wish to be matched with someone with overlapping research interests who could potentially collaborate on publications. The match with Yan was a bit of a stretch. Although both work in areas that touch on economics, Summer is grounded in social work while Yan works in systems science modeling and big data methodologies. Their shared experience as immigrants and first-generation students, however, proved vitally important to making their relationship a success.
As Yan told us, “Both Summer and I received our bachelor’s degree in China and came to the United States for graduate school. When I was talking to her, sometimes I felt like I was talking to myself ten years ago. I understood some of the unique challenges she, as a first-generation Asian immigrant, could face in academia. There were many moments throughout my academic career when I wished I could have done things differently if I understood the American/Western culture a little better. Thus, one of my goals in our conversations was to let her have fewer of those moments in the future.”
Summer’s reflections sounded a similar theme:
“Dr. Li understands my experience as an Asian immigrant and a first-generation student. It’s exciting to see representation of a scholar who resembles me establish strong leadership and respected scholarship in population health. He pushes the boundary of systems science and big data methodologies and has established cross-national collaborations and networks between China and the U.S. in population health. His productivity and ambition keep me inspired and motivated; his humility and genuineness make feel comfortable reaching out whenever I need help. Dr. Li generously shares his experience, knowledge, and global network with me, which greatly helps me to navigate my career options. He always encourages me to have confidence in myself.”
Summer’s and Yan’s grounding in different disciplines opened up opportunities for learning on both sides, providing new perspectives on their work. In the course of discussing research ideas and projects with Summer, Yan learned a great deal about research in social work. This prompted him to start thinking about combining knowledge from both systems science and social work to answer challenging population health problems.
Although the past year was as stressful for Yan and Summer as it was for most mentors and mentees, both seem to have enjoyed, and benefited from, their meetings. Yan tells us, “I look forward to continuing this mentoring relationship and am excited to watch Summer develop into an excellent population health scientist!”
The IAPHS Mentoring Committee thanks both Summer and Yan for participating in the program. The professional development of population health scholars is a key goal for IAPHS, and mentors and mentees alike are helping to make it happen.
IAPHS will be welcoming new mentees to the program once again in January 2021. Visit the Mentoring Page for more information.