Path to PhD begins with dad’s inspiration and a professor’s encouragement

By Sally Crocker

Jialiang Liu Web

When Jialiang Liu was a little girl, she wanted to be just like her dad.

Her father is a pediatrician in China, and both parents have always encouraged their only child to go for her personal best, even if it meant spending years away from home to pursue graduate school in another country.

“I always dreamed of going into medical practice like my dad, but along the way I discovered public health and research science,” said the graduating HSC student who has spent seven years in Fort Worth, working first on an MPH and now the completion of her PhD in Biostatistics through the School of Public Health.

“Now we are both doctors, with the same goal in mind, just in different types of practice,” she said. “The role of a pediatrician and a public health scientist are complementary, in that they both focus on improving health, whether it be the health of individual patients or larger populations and communities.”

Commencement ceremonies are online this year, and while Liu’s parents won’t be traveling to Texas due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the family will still be celebrating this proud moment – remotely.

Liu is graduating with high honors as this year’s SPH Dean’s Award winner for scholarly excellence in research.

She’s being recognized for her work as a graduate research assistant on a Texas Center for Health Disparities Pilot Project led by Dr. Menghua Tao, SPH Assistant Professor, in which the nutritional and health status of minority populations were studied, and for her work as a biostatistics consultant for HSC’s Biostatistics and Epidemiology Consulting and Collaboration Services (BECCS).

She has also published two peer-reviewed articles in the scholarly journal Nutrients with Dr. Tao and other colleagues, analyzing essential dietary intake among minority women of childbearing age and magnesium intake among Hispanic adults.

And she’s worked on projects impacting probationers, geriatric patients and vulnerable populations through the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, HSC’s m.chat health-coaching technology program and the HSC Center for Geriatrics.

Liu first became interested in public health as an undergraduate in China, where she provided statistical support for epidemiologic research at a public health institute.

She found that she really liked biostatistics, deciding to pursue that field to improve lives through quantitative research.

She wanted to see more of life in other countries as part of her graduate studies, ultimately settling on Texas as an interesting place to be. When she found HSC, the journey began.

Liu hadn’t considered going for a PhD, but the encouragement she received from her SPH faculty advisor, Dr. Sumihiro Suzuki, early in her MPH program inspired her to take her talents one step further in making meaningful contributions to public health research.

“I never thought about one day working toward a PhD – it just wasn’t anything I ever considered,” she said.

She decided to go for it, and now her goal is to become a public health academic expert.

At this point, she is working on publishing her dissertation and presenting one of her dissertation topics at the upcoming Joint Statistical Meetings, one of the largest gatherings of statisticians held in North America.

“When the time is right, I plan to take a little break to just enjoy my personal life a bit, maybe take a trip, see more places and experience more of the world before launching into my next steps,” she said.

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