May 19, 2023
Throughout her career, Sha Liao, a senior biochemical engineer at the Biochemistry Development Platform of BGI-Research, has consistently rejected the notion that a single choice determines one's entire life. At each crossroads, she has approached her decisions with a forward-looking perspective, refusing to be confined by conventional thinking.
Like many fresh graduates, Liao faced the challenge of choosing a career path after completing her degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. However, she recognized the growing significance of high-throughput sequencing technology, which BGI was planning to research and develop. "Joining BGI was an obvious choice for me," Liao affirmed.
Upon joining BGI, she wholeheartedly embraced the project dedicated to the development of the organization's proprietary DNA sequencing technology. Tirelessly, she collaborated with teams to optimize the algorithm, establishing the bedrock for the cutting-edge tech that revolutionizes the world today.
However, when the project diverged in terms of technological direction, Liao faced a critical decision. She had to choose between continuing to enhance and optimize the existing technology or embarking on a new path. Liao's willingness to step out of her comfort zone and embrace new challenges propelled her to choose the latter - specifically, the spatial-temporal omics field. However, her bold move was not made without meticulous calculation; it was a result of her accumulated experience and visionary outlook.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows at the beginning. Initially, the Spatial-Temporal Omics project faced great uncertainties as it was merely a concept on paper. While the project leader, Dr. Chen Ao, Chief Scientist of Spatio-Temporal Omics, Director of the Biochemical Technology Research Institute at BGI-Research, had proposed the idea, it was up to the entire team to turn it into reality.
The diligent efforts of Liao and her team bore fruit. The breakthroughs achieved through BGI's spatial-temporal omics technology showcased its exceptional performance in terms of spatial resolution and panoramic field of view. This capability enables the analysis of molecule and cell distributions in situ and over time.
In May 2022, BGI's spatial-temporal omics technology contributed to the publication of the world's first panoramic atlases of life for mice, small fruit flies, zebrafish, and the Arabidopsis plant in Cell Press journals. Furthermore, this technology plays a pivotal role in brain science, cancer research, and other fields of study that have the potential to improve overall health and reshape our understanding of nature.
Looking ahead, Liao envisions the application of BGI's spatial-temporal omics technology in clinical settings. She believes it can contribute to the identification and analysis of specific characteristics that improve response rates in cancer treatment or immunotherapy.
During her career from a staff member to a leadership role, she acknowledges that her teamwork skills and leadership abilities underwent rigorous testing. Nevertheless, she perceives this transformative process as the "most profound change" she has ever encountered. "At the beginning, I lacked the courage and authority to assign tasks to the team, so I attempted to shoulder everything myself," she admitted. Her inherently goal-oriented personality often exerted pressure on her team members, a challenge she readily recognized. Ultimately, she realized that striking a delicate balance between setting objectives and fostering a sense of achievement among her team was absolutely vital.
Fortunately, Liao received support from her two leaders and teammates. "My first leader empowered me to voice my opinions and provided encouragement, while the other leader has been consistently supportive too." Consequently, she learned how to step back and acknowledge the importance of allowing room for exploration, as it fosters the growth of her team.
Reflecting on her scientific journey, Sha Liaored her advice with the younger generation of scientists, acknowledging the common emphasis placed on the importance of choices in books. However, she offered a different perspective, stating, "If you've chosen your path, stick with it and give it your best effort. But here's the thing – life is a long journey full of opportunities for growth, and it's all about embracing experimentation and learning from mistakes. If you stumble, don't panic, because you always have the chance to explore a different path. So, go ahead, embrace the challenges, and you'll see that your hard work will pay off."
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