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Experiences as a First-year OrACORe RA: Interview with Yusi Gong

Yusi Gong (YG)
Emma C. Lape (ECL)


Yusi Gong joined OrACORe as a research assistant this past June after graduating from Tufts. Yusi spoke with me about her experiences in the first year at OrACORe.

ECL: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

YG: To take you all the way back, I was born in China and grew up in Acton, Mass. In high school, I played trombone in marching band and played volleyball. I don’t have siblings, but we did have pet bunnies. Oddly, a lot of OrACORe folks are from Acton. James, another current RA, went to my high school, and so did a recent RA alumnus and one of our post-doctoral fellows. I studied biomedical engineering at Tufts, and I started out in biophotonics research.

ECL: So what (besides your hometown) brought you to OrACORe?

YG: I started college wanting to do engineering because I loved the quantitative work and the problem solving. However, during my time in college, I found that I like working with people more than working with lasers. A source of motivation for me is having an impact on people. So when I applied for jobs, I looked at clinical research as well as engineering industry jobs. The environment here at OrACORe was really different from most places. It seemed like a great place to collaborate, learn from true experts, and also make an impact. Sometimes in academia, people work in isolation and you have to fight to get help or advice. Here, the mentorship is fantastic, and we have weekly check-ins with our PIs, who help to guide us through the research. It helps us keep up with the quick pace of the projects we do. I’ve learned so much just from working alongside brilliant clinicians, statisticians, fellows, and other RAs. We also have so many different projects going on at OrACORe, and it’s a unique learning experience to see every phase of a clinical trial or cohort study, from the grant through design, recruitment, and finally, the manuscript.

ECL: It’s certainly different from work environments I’d been in before, too. What was the biggest adjustment for you coming in?

YG: I’d been used to working independently, so it was really surprising—and great!—that the second-year RAs check in on you and are always there to give guidance.

ECL: What has been a favorite project that you’ve worked on in your first year?

YG: I do a lot with OAPol, our osteoarthritis policy model. My favorite project has been thinking about how to change the model structure in order to model weight loss surgery interventions. The use of bariatric surgery in knee osteoarthritis is an interesting and timely question, and really speaks to the changing characteristics of our population. I’ve had a lot of ownership of this project, seeing it through from the start. First, I conducted a literature search to find which outcomes of bariatric surgery we can include in the model. Bariatric surgery is different from other weight loss interventions that we’ve already modeled, such as a diet and exercise regimen. We use something called BMI efficacy, which indicates the effect an intervention has on someone’s BMI. When a treatment “fails,” BMI in our model returns to what it would have been without the treatment. But with bariatric surgery, a lot of weight is lost initially, and only some of it is regained, so it’s a challenge to model with our existing structures. To complicate things, these surgeries alter hormones and metabolites and can resolve patients’ diabetes or even hypertension.  It’s been a fun challenge taking a complex clinical intervention and turning it into a model.

ECL: We’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with. Thanks, Yusi!

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