My “Way” to the United States and My Grant Writing “Why” | Yinjiao Ma

I was born in a small city called Baoji in China. The city is near the famous underground Terracotta Army as shown in the below picture. In 2003 when I was in high school, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) had a great impact on my city and affected almost all walks of life. I was deeply shocked by how helpless people are when no effective drugs are available. This eventually led to my decision to study in the field of pharmacy and I applied for China Pharmaceutical University the next year of the SARS outbreak. Luckily, I was admitted, and I spent 7 years to study biological pharmacy and obtain my bachelor and master’s degrees in pharmacy.

Terracotta Army in Xi’an, China

To gain more research experience in Pharmacy, I applied and was admitted to graduate school at Michigan State University (MSU) to pursue the PhD degree at the Genetics Department. However, after I studied in the program for two years, I felt the wet lab such as working with human cancer cells and mice didn’t fit my research goal of Pharmacy. After attending a seminar about biostatistics in biomedical studies, I realized the importance of biostatistics in the pharmacy development. Therefore, I took several biostatistics courses at MSU and I realized that I became more and more interested in biostatistics as the class went on deeper and deeper. I started to search for statistical materials or courses to learn and eventually I decided to apply to the MPH program major in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Saint Louis University (SLU).

MSU Spartan Marching Band; before the big ten football game

It was a tough decision as I need to get prepared both mentally and physically. However, that is life. Never stop challenging. Importantly, hard work paid off. I got my first job as Statistical Data Analyst in Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) right after I graduated from SLU. As a statistician I had a chance to work on a lot of medicine related projects and I also learnt the demand from physicians and medical staff. However, after a few years of work, I found out my role in the project is just a statistician. For all the projects, I just needed to work on the statistical analysis and results interpretation parts. I didn’t even need to fully understand the research background, I just need to figure out the right statistical model for the data. In most of the time, the work is repetitive, and I don’t really learn anything new. I found sometimes, I was unable to solve some statistical problems by myself and I was not very confident in writing a proposal or manuscript. I realized that I need to get more statistical skills and formal research training.

After a long time struggling, I figured out the best way to solve those problems is to get the PhD training! It is also the reason why I came to the U.S. Compared to my first PhD experiences in the wet lab, this time I knew the program is what I am really interested in, and it is consistent with my career goal. Luckily my mentor Dr. Steve Rigdon was looking for a new student when I applied to the PhD program in SLU. He is an expert in biostatistics and a great mentor. He addressed my statistical questions and always gives me great advice on research projects and courses selection.

I stepped into the human health research area because of SARS in 2003 and now it is time for me to make some real contributions to help with another devastating pandemic. Applying for a grant related to COVID-19 pandemic will be a good start for me. This grant writing class gave me very useful training and information on how to write an NIH-style grant, and Dr. Juliet Iwelunmor always gave great suggestions on each part of the grant. With the grant writing experiences gained from this class I will definitely be more qualified for grant applications.

Clear, Articulate Grant Writing By Doctoral Students For Doctoral Students | Saint Louis University