Skip to main content

Gordon Ye ImageI am a Researcher, a Churchill Scholarship Winner, and a Goldwater Scholarship Winner!

Gordon Ye

Major: CS with specialization in biomedical computation

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.

How did you hear about the Churchill scholarship?

One of my research mentors, Sally Baxter, was a Marshall scholar who told me about the UK scholarships.

What interested you in applying for it?

Receiving funding to live and work in another country for a year seemed like a fantastic opportunity to engage in a cool research project and learn about how research is done in another part of the world.

How was the application process?

The application process was challenging. The summer before senior year, I worked through MD-PhD applications and other scholarship applications on top of my research projects. I almost didn’t submit my Churchill application – not only did I have to prepare separate essay responses and coordinate additional letters of recommendation from current research mentors, but I also prepared a project proposal with a potential faculty advisor at the University of Cambridge and Wellcome Sanger Institute. Because this process was so extensive and I’d heard the scholarship was so competitive, I almost didn’t apply. But I thought I might as well give it a shot, so I submitted the application relatively late and didn’t hope for much.

How will the scholarship benefit you?

The Churchill scholarship will help me grow in two significant ways: teaching me cutting-edge research tools and techniques and building my skills in working in interdisciplinary and multicultural teams.

My research interests are in precision medicine and psychiatry – to improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders and ultimately develop better diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for them. In my research experiences so far, I’ve realized how advanced other fields feel compared to psychiatry. One example of this is the differences between cancer genomics and psychiatric genomics. During an internship at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, I experienced how exciting longitudinal whole-genome sequencing (WGS) was in improving our understanding of how brain cancers change over time and in response to treatment. But as WGS has become widespread and even outpaced by newer technologies in cancer research, it is only now making its way to psychiatry. As a Churchill Scholar, I will be joining the lab of Dr. Sam Behjati at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. There, I will learn how to look beyond WGS by applying single-cell and spatial transcriptomics to study healthy and tumor tissue from a pediatric high-grade glioma patient. While WGS tells us about the patterns of variation we have across our genomes, transcriptomics gives us a better idea of what is happening biologically within ourselves – what genes are being expressed and to what degree. Single-cell and spatial transcriptomics take it a step further, telling us what is happening within specific cells and physical regions of the brain. I hope that when I return to the United States to start my MD-PhD and begin my career as a physician-scientist, I will be able to leverage single-cell and spatial transcriptomics in my research, advancing our understanding of the biological underpinnings of psychiatric disorders.

Next, working in another field and another part of the world will teach me how to work in interdisciplinary and multicultural teams, which I see as vital to my long-term goal of helping advance the vision of equitable precision medicine in psychiatry – to not only develop better ways of diagnosing and treating psychiatric disorders but to ensure that they effectively serve the needs of our diverse and growing global community. I understand that science and clinical medicine are only part of the picture: truly advancing this vision will require working with advocates and community leaders to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health; working with lawyers and experts in public policy to ensure policies support equitable access to cutting-edge mental healthcare strategies; working with entrepreneurs and industry partners to scale up novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies; and so much more. Because what good is a cure if we don’t have enough supply? Or if certain communities don’t have access to it? Spending a year living and working in the UK will help me develop my skills in working in and eventually leading interdisciplinary and multicultural teams – attributes vital to teams tackling complex problems in the world.

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

Definitely apply. Scholarships provide a valuable community that will help you grow professionally and personally in ways you may not realize. I only recently began to recognize the value of the Churchill Scholarship beyond just being a cool research opportunity – that it would be an opportunity for cultural immersion, a chance to learn about the unique healthcare system in the UK, an opportunity to travel around Europe, and an opportunity for a break before starting my MD-PhD training. These were not things I really considered when preparing my application. In my experience, the most exciting and meaningful aspects of something you apply to may not be revealed until long after you hit the “submit” button.

Goldwater Scholarship

How did you hear about the Goldwater scholarship?

I 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.