How My Curiosity Led Me to A Career in Science
By: Jiang Hu, Sr. Principal Scientist, Global Product and Safety, Herbalife Nutrition
As scientists, we might sometimes be perceived as too results-oriented. Of course, results are critical to science, but so is the path that leads to them. The discoveries and knowledge you gain along the way are invaluable.
I’ve learned this on my own journey to becoming a scientist. As a kid, I was very keen on understanding things, not just memorizing them. I was interested in the why, so I spent my time reading, asking questions and analyzing things.
That natural curiosity eventually led me to study medicine: what could possibly be more fascinating than the human body?
An Interest in Nutrition and Food Safety
I earned my bachelor’s degree in Preventive Medicine from Beijing Medical University (now part of Peking University), learning that the best approach to promote and maintain the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities is through adopting lifestyle behaviors that would minimize the risks of getting diseases and health conditions, and avoid expensive medical care. This is an especially important issue today since healthcare costs are on the rise.
When I graduated, the obvious path was to become a physician. However, through the residencies process, I found that I was more intrigued by the process of discovering the unknowns and finding solutions to health concerns, rather than in the direct interaction with patients. Being able to do in-depth research appealed to me because it meant I would have the chance to positively impact a broad population, rather than a single patient.
One of the areas particularly appealed to me was diet and safety, which later led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Toxicology. Since graduation, I have practiced in nutrition and food toxicology field for years and become specialized in descriptive and regulatory toxicology, particularly in risk and safety assessment of food ingredients and botanicals.
New Challenges Created New Opportunities
Throughout my career, I’ve always been involved in scientific roles: research and development to generate scientific data to substantiate the safety and health benefits of products, evaluation of efficacy of functional ingredients, scientific and regulatory affairs. But I wanted a new challenge.
When I joined Herbalife Nutrition, I was enthused by the company’s investment in its talents and commitment to transform into a company leading in nutrition science. We develop products backed by science so that each and every customer –whether a professional athlete or someone just starting their wellness journey – would have confidence in our nutritious products. When I became a member of the Scientific Affairs department, I quickly recognized the challenges facing our small team would turn into greater opportunities for me.
During my six years at Herbalife Nutrition, I provide guidance on matters of product safety, clinical design, and statistical analysis of experimental data. I also work closely with our science team on product development, ingredients, and efficacy. Currently, I am leading research initiatives related to product for the company and recently co-authored a peer-reviewed publication on green tea safety systematic review.
Every day I’m broadening my skill sets by being exposed to new opportunities and challenges. It has made me a more confident and well-rounded professional.
The staff of scientists at Herbalife Nutrition is over 50% women and the company encourages the hiring and development of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). For me, knowing that I work for a company that values the contribution of women to science and provides opportunities to develop professionally reinforces my confidence that this is the right place to be. I know that what I bring to the table matters.
I continue to be inspired by how Herbalife Nutrition has evolved. We manufacture our own products, we educate people about the science of good nutrition, and we train them on what’s right for their bodies. I am extremely proud to be part of what the company contributes to make the world healthier and happier.
To Our Future Female Scientists Out There: Stay the Course
While the number of female students graduating with degrees in science-related fields is approximately half of those who are male, we should also keep in mind the progress we have made.
For example, in some STEM job clusters, women match or exceed men’s share in the U.S. workforce overall. That is the case for health care practitioners and technicians, life sciences and math occupations.
One thing we can do keep leveling up these numbers is to encourage mentoring programs. I am very fortunate to have had great mentors and leaders who gave me an opportunity to shine and learn new skills.
Having mentors you trust and admire is a great first step. So, inquire and persist. Believe what you are capable of and find a mentor to guide you. And remember: stay curious and push the boundaries!