Claudia Liu – GWS Alumni Spotlight

Claudia Liu graduated from UW-Madison with majors in Biochemistry and Gender and Women’s Studies and a certificate in Japanese Professional Communication in May 2021. Claudia is currently a first-year Ph.D. student at Harvard University in the Chemical Biology Graduate Program.

How does Gender and Women’s Studies matter in the day-to-day of your professional life?

Claudia Liu, GWS Alumni Spotlight, at Shanghai Disney.
Claudia at Shanghai Disney

I think GWS infiltrates every single portion of my professional life. As an Asian, a woman, and an international student pursuing a doctoral degree, my everyday life is deeply shaped by my identities. Intersectionality is not just a word on paper but a lived reality for everyone. The ‘science world’ I’m seeing as well as the ‘scientists’ with whom I interact with daily constantly remind me of many not-to-be-proud-of legacies of science. The other day I was doing some metagenomic study and trying to search an oncogene in an online database, the name of which reads “Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man”. Shocking. As a woman in science, I quickly found myself frowning at this nomenclature. I felt uncomfortable because it does not represent my identity, aka ‘human’ does not just read as ‘man’. I could as well just stop thinking and invalidate my own feelings-but no. Moments like this make me ponder representations of various identities in the biological sciences and how important it is to sensitize colleagues in the field to take them seriously.

Are there topics or concepts from your GWS education that inspire your current projects?

Selfie of Claudia Liu with a Shiba Inu.
Selfie with a Shiba Inu

One thing I have come to appreciate is to think beyond the binary. For example, in introductory level gender studies courses, I learned that gender and sexual orientation are not binary, but spectrum (Also, I think there’re multiple models there). As I dig deeper into bioscience research, I found that biology is also not binary and should not be binary. The biological sciences are seldom just black and white. COVID vaccines for example, may not work for every variant of the virus and its efficacy differs across individuals. In cancer biology, one protein is oftentimes regulated by multiple different metabolites/ligands and participate in many signaling cascades. This inherent complexity and intricacy in biological research necessitates equally complex modes of thinking and questioning. What are the variables? What might be missing in the experimental design? Could my previous training/social and cultural background/knowledge base potentially bias the way I interpret my data and impact the conclusion I draw? How do we define ‘objectivity’? I’m still navigating these questions myself. The gist is to stay alert and critical about binary models, hypotheses, or findings, and continue challenging yourself when conducting research by asking all the why questions.

Do you have advice for students who share your research interests and want to pursue a similar path?

I found majoring in GWS one of the best decisions I’ve made so far. If you plan to start a journey in graduate school, my suggestion would be to never give up on critical thinking. You have the freedom to disagree, to raise concerns and doubts,

Claudia shared the view of her hometown, Chongqing, from her flight after 2 years in the U.S. during the COVID19 pandemic.
Claudia shared the view of her hometown, Chongqing, from her flight after 2 years in the U.S. during the COVID19 pandemic.

to be polite and assertive in your own opinions, to be communicative and informative, and to be unapologetic about your personal or professional decisions. Graduate school is exciting and challenging. Best of luck as you navigate your journey!

Do you remember a favorite GWS course or instructor?

For those interested in scientific research I recommend Lili Johnson’s feminist STS study course. It was very eye-opening for me to analyze science as a field from a brand-new perspective (scientists study science, but there are also scholars who study scientists. Mind-blowing for me).