STEMM Profile: Dr Jiao Jiao Li | Biomedical Engineer & NHMRC Early Career Fellow | University of Technology Sydney | Sydney | NSW

Dr Jiao Jiao Li [photo: Young No]

“Whether we’re talking about collaborators or mentors and mentees, it’s important to try and see things from the other person’s perspective, respect diversity and differences in values and opinion, and support others in a way that is mutually beneficial”

Dr Jiao Jiao Li (JJ) is a biomedical engineer and NHMRC Early Career Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, and a Chief Investigator on the ARC Training Centre for Innovative BioEngineering. She received her PhD from the University of Sydney in 2015. JJ is researching regenerative medicine approaches to treat chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis and bone loss. She has particular interest in developing stem cell-based therapeutics, as well as biomaterials for tissue engineering.

JJ has led interdisciplinary projects in basic science and clinical research relating to regenerative medicine and orthopaedics. She has received two institutional best manuscript awards (Rebecca Cooper Medal 2017, Institute of Bone and Joint Research Award 2019) and the 2019 Young Investigator Award from the Australasian Wound & Tissue Repair Society (AWTRS). One of her publications (J Mater Chem B 2015) from a collaboration with Tufts University she established during her Endeavour Research Fellowship (2011) was publicised as a Science Highlight article by the NIH.

Dr Li has delivered >40 conference presentations and received 17 best presentation awards. She is a co-inventor on a patent granted in Australia, Japan, Europe and USA. She was selected from internationally competitive applicants to join the Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) Young Investigator Committee in 2019, and the Tissue Engineering journal Young Investigator Council in 2016.

What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful STEMM academic researcher?

Optimism. Being an academic researcher is probably one of the most challenging but also rewarding career paths. Rejections and disappointment are common in research, and those who are early/mid-career, women, and culturally/linguistically diverse often face additional barriers to success. Among the gloominess, optimism allows us to let the sunlight through. I also believe that optimism is fuelled by a genuine passion for science, curiosity to make new discoveries, and determination to make things happen.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful leader?

Empathy and generosity. I think these are probably the greatest attributes for researchers at any career stage/leadership level. Whether we’re talking about collaborators or mentors and mentees, it’s important to try and see things from the other person’s perspective, respect diversity and differences in values and opinion, and support others in a way that is mutually beneficial. I feel like the best leaders are the ones who put the well-being and needs of their people before the project.

What advice would you give early career researchers – especially women – in STEMM today?

Network and support each other! It’s so easy to feel down/underappreciated/underachieving, particularly for female ECRs in an increasingly competitive funding landscape. Sometimes a few words of encouragement from someone at a similar career stage, even if they’re working in a completely different field can instantly brighten up the day. It’s so important to find a sense of belonging and to feel that no one is left alone. So please don’t be afraid to reach out for support from your peers/mentors, and if someone comes to you, please at least respond with a few positive words.

What have you learnt during your career to increase your resilience?

I choose to believe that our rate of failure/rejections is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of our research, but rather the number of things we apply for. If we never aim big then we will never gain the experience to apply for these big things. I think it’s important to recognise what is standing between us and the next big thing, and to work towards it at our own pace. My favourite quote: “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” – Zen Shin

Are you a science communicator? Why and how do you communicate?

I try to be! I have done a range of high school engagement activities such as careers day talks, mentoring for science projects, and lab tours, as well as a few presentations to the general public through events like the National Science Week. I was also recently featured for a brief talk on radio. I love seeing the sparkle in the eyes of young audiences when they see/hear about how ‘cool’ science can be and want to be the next ones leading new discoveries. Hopefully we can also get more girls to pursue STEMM careers!

LinkedIn: Jiao Jiao Li

Twitter: @JiaoJiaoLi_Syd