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Gordon Ye ImageI AM A RESEARCHER & GOLDWATER WINNER!

Gordon Ye

Major: CS with Specialization in Biomedical Computation (Individual Studies Program)

College: Thurgood Marshall College

UC San Diego graduation year: 2023

Undergraduate Research

URH Research Programs: TRELS (spring 2020, winter 2022, spring 2022), URS - Julia Brown Research Scholarship for Medical Research (summer 2022)

What are you researching? My research projects leverage genomic, clinical, wearable (Fitbit), epidemiological, and unstructured free-text data to better understand the biological and social aspects of psychiatric disorders. Currently, my projects focus on depression, suicide, and substance use disorders.

Why and how did you decide to get involved in undergraduate research?

The summer after my junior year of high school, I got the opportunity to do some bioinformatics research through a summer internship for high school students. That was the first time I saw how my interests in tech and medicine could be combined, and ever since then, I knew I wanted to go into computational biomedical research. When I started at UCSD, I cold-emailed some professors whose work interested me (focusing mainly on psychiatry and genomics). Now, I’ve collaborated on multiple projects across departments and institutions, and I’ve only grown to love the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of research more and more.

What has been the most exciting/interesting thing you've discovered through your research?

The most interesting thing I’ve learned is just how complex psychiatric conditions are. Through my research projects using different data types, I’ve realized that mental health is shaped by a complex interaction of biological and social factors. Just as genetic variants or neural circuit perturbations may increase or lower our risk of developing conditions like clinical depression and substance use disorders, so do our life experiences: housing/food insecurity, perceived stigma, early life stress, stress from work/school, and more. I now believe that understanding how these factors interact uniquely in each individual is vital to ushering in an era of precision medicine in psychiatry and mental healthcare.

What advice would you give to students starting research?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes! Research is tough, and sometimes it’ll feel like you’re getting nowhere, just hitting roadblock after roadblock. While this can be frustrating and demoralizing at the moment, I’ve recognized that these struggles helped me develop most as a researcher – especially my scientific thinking, technical research skills, and communication skills.

Goldwater Scholarship

How did you hear about the Goldwater scholarship?

stumbled upon the Goldwater during my freshman year – I saw something about it on the URH website and it sounded like a great opportunity.

What interested you in applying for it?

I thought it would be a great opportunity to help me reduce the burden of tuition and fees on my family (college is expensive!). I also felt it would be especially meaningful if I were awarded the scholarship, given my interests in psychiatry and mental health. Significant biomedical and social progress has been made in the field, but there is still a long way to go. To me, being awarded the scholarship would represent change: the growing recognition that mental health is important, that significant progress is still needed, and that psychiatric research is just as meaningful and important as other areas, like cancer or immunology research.

How was the application process?

I found the application pretty intense, so I started brainstorming my responses and potential directions for the research essay early on. It’s a lot of work to get through, but if you give yourself plenty of time, you can put together something you can be proud of, and it won’t be too stressful. I would definitely advise against starting the application like 2 weeks or 1 month before the due date.

How has the scholarship benefited you?

The scholarship amount ($7500) has helped significantly in reducing the financial burden of my education. I love research and have a younger brother who is also in college, so being able to continue the work I’m passionate about while helping pay for tuition/housing is super nice. Also, the reflection I put into the application and written materials made MD-PhD and scholarship applications significantly more manageable and less stressful, as I wasn’t starting from scratch. If you’re thinking about applying to graduate/medical school or other fellowships/scholarships/etc., the experience of applying for the Goldwater alone (even if you aren’t awarded it) will help significantly.

What advice do you have for others interested in applying for this scholarship (or others)?

First, start early. If you’re reading this, you’re probably at least somewhat interested in research – do some soul-searching! Think about why you like research, why it’s meaningful to you, and the scientific problems that matter to you. The Goldwater also has a research essay in which you write a proposal, so getting started early will also help significantly in doing your background research, putting together the proposal, and editing/revising it.

Second, related to the above, be yourself. Make sure your voice shines through your application. I believe that you should be able to read a draft of your application and say, “this is me.”

Finally, get feedback! I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this step. Your application won’t necessarily be reviewed by an expert in your domain (e.g., even though my research is focused on computational methods in psychiatry, the person who reviews my application may have a background in chemistry or mechanical engineering). So, having different perspectives will help ensure that: 1) the technical aspects of your application are accurate, rigorous, and accessible to a broad scientific audience; and 2) the writing is good. I found the feedback from my friends, faculty mentors, and The Writing Hub to be super helpful. However, it’s essential not to over-edit, as this can cause the application to lose your voice.

Anything else you want to share?

I think some things that don’t get enough attention are failure and mental health. First, science is hard! You’re likely to encounter many failed experiments or other roadblocks. I’ve had multiple papers rejected by journals, denied grant applications, delayed projects and analyses, internship/SURF applications that fell through, and I actually didn’t get the Goldwater until the second time I applied. The roadblocks you will encounter on your research journey are completely normal and are experiences shared by your fellow students, postdocs, and even faculty mentors. At the moment, they are tough, but they serve as incredible learning opportunities. Next, make sure to prioritize your mental health. Research is intense, and you already have much to do as a student. It’s not easy, but learning how to set boundaries, recognize your limitations, and reach out for support when needed will empower you to do your best work sustainably.