Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A: Early on, I was fond of being a bus conductor collecting quarters. But later that dream job was replaced by being a cool scientist conducting experiments.
Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
A: I did a lot of tutoring for high school students when I was a chemistry major in China. It was such a rewarding experience when they told me they were more interested in the subject or did well on a test because of my help. It was witnessing students’ struggle with learning science that led to my decision to change my field of study from chemistry to science education. I want to make an impact on how people learn science.
Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
A: One day, when I was collecting classroom video-recording data for my dissertation, the participating teacher that I worked with had a medical emergency. She asked me if I was willing to teach for her since I was familiar with the students and the activity our research team designed. While I knew I could not use it as data for my dissertation, I could not turn down the teacher’s request. After all, the goal of the research project was to help students better learn science, so I agreed. I was later told by the teacher that, since then, she knew for sure I really cared about her students’ learning, as opposed to viewing them as objects in an experiment.
Q: Describe your research in 5 words.
A: Improving how students learn science.
Q: What are your passions outside of research?
A: I love playing board games with my friends in my spare time. Since college, I have been playing a social deduction game called “Mafia,” the object of which is to figure out each other’s identity through talk. While it is a good way to relax and hang out with friends, it’s a lot more fun if you have a group of geeks who are keen on discourse analysis and micro-facial expression detection.