Gradient

Jason Chang Marvin, Ph.D. : Featured Queer Engineer

Dr. Chang Marvin is a Biomedical Engineer who is currently a Dean's Postdoctoral Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Read on to learn more about Dr. Chang Marvin's exceptional work as a researcher, mentor, and more.

1-1.jpg

QE: What is your current job?

As of July 2022, I am a Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS). My postdoctoral research under the mentorship of Prof. Jenna Galloway investigates the zebrafish as a naturally regenerative animal model to elucidate the biological mechanisms that drive musculoskeletal tissue regeneration.

QE: Where did you complete your education, and in what disciplines?

Born and raised in Texas, I received my B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas at Dallas in May 2017. During my undergraduate studies, I completed a senior thesis under the mentorship of Prof. Danieli Rodrigues that characterized the biocompatibility of several dental cement products used in clinical implant restorations (e.g., crowns). More recently, I received my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Cornell University. My dissertation research under the mentorship of Prof. Nelly Andarawis-Puri leveraged the super-healer Murphy Roth’s Large (MRL/MpJ) mouse strain to identify candidate protein regulators of mammalian tendon regeneration. My work culminated in the development of a protein-based biologic therapy that can promote regenerative behavior in otherwise wild-type, or non-healer, mouse tendon cells.

QE: In your own words - what kind of engineering do you do? What does a typical day in your life usually look like?

As a biomedical engineer, I focus on applying traditional engineering tools and principles to
address questions that impact human health. Specifically, my research interests encompass
regenerative medicine, tissue-engineered disease models, developmental and stem cell biology,
biomechanics, and the musculoskeletal system.


My work schedule is typically quite dynamic! Given that I have only been in my postdoctoral position for less than a month, I typically spend most of my i brainstorming about potential project directions, acquiring new experimental techniques (a lot of molecular biology), and attending seminars and workshops (e.g., bioinformatics courses). Admittedly, it has felt strange outlining these scientific questions that I am so eager to explore yet currently lack the technical foundation to perform. However, it is an extremely exciting position to be in as an aspiring independent investigator who desires to complement their engineering background with a basic science perspective. I come to campus every day feeling very much like a kid in a candy shop perusing all the opportunities to learn around me.


Outside of my immediate research projects, I am actively involved in K-12 outreach, teaching, mentoring, and service endeavors. In particular, I serve on the Diversity Committee for the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) and on the Tendon Section Membership Committee & Public Outreach Committee for the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS), the two professional societies that serve as my primary scientific homes. Each month, I usually spend a few hours on tasks related to organizing symposia, workshops, and multimedia content for upcoming conferences and other events. When I was a graduate student at Cornell, I also worked in residential life and often was engaged in campus programs and other fun activities to cultivate a living-learning environment for my undergraduate students. Many of which revolved around giving me excuses to bake and try new foods. In my free time, I boulder, cook, and enjoy trying new coffee varieties and restaurants.

QE: What has your experience been like as an out LGBTQIA+ engineer of color?

It has certainly been interesting. As a gay Asian American scientist, I have felt that others — both within the general queer community and academia at large — have seemingly assumed that I cannot be assertive or confrontational, in addition to some other stereotypes. These usually manifest more subtly in nature where I will leave a meeting and immediately question “did they say that or react that way because I am Asian? Or because I am gay? Or because I am Asian and gay?” These interactions prompted me to use my middle name (‘Marvin’) as my surname for professional purposes (e.g., publishing papers) to alleviate the receiving end of these biases, but this also has since caused me inner turmoil and guilt that I continue to grapple with. Furthermore, I decided early on in my graduate studies to be forthcoming and hyper-visible in being openly
queer. I tend to over-analyze situations and conversations, so this personal decision has enabled me to navigate spaces and minimize worrying about how others’ would perceive me differently. I have absolutely no regrets doing so as it has allowed me to form meaningful connections with other queer trainees and colleagues.

QE: Why is it important to you to bring your whole self to work? In other words - how do your intersectional identities impact your work?

Growing up in Texas, I spent most of my upbringing not knowing an out person, let alone another scientist. In my senior year of college, I fortunately met colleagues and faculty in my field during a queer social event at a conference. This experience empowered me to see that scientific excellence and authenticity were not mutually exclusive, which encouraged me to enter graduate school as the most unapologetic version of myself. Fortunately, I felt supported and celebrated in most spaces at Cornell, particularly within the Graduate School Office for Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE). Navigating these professional settings without needing to put a guarded front allowed me to thrive and in turn help foster inclusive environments for others.

 

My capacity to engage in my science and academics is tied to my personal being. During my undergraduate and early graduate studies, I self-selected out of applications and professional development opportunities as I was uncertain of how I would be perceived by those who held agency over my career progression. In particular, the musculoskeletal research field has historically been overwhelmingly dominated by cis, heterosexual, and white men. Coupled with recent surges in anti-Asian rhetoric, rampant homophobia, and an unprecedented degree of anti-transgender legislation and attacks, there are days where I have to step back from my work to focus on preserving my own wellbeing. Thankfully, I have phenomenal mentors and close friends who I can lean on as my fiercest advocates during these stressful times. As I continue to pave my own road ahead to the professoriate, I would love for more well-intentioned allies to readily recognize and take action in response to these events without needing prompting from
those who are already among the most marginalized and/or minorities in our fields.

QE: What does the future look like for you and your career? Do you have any goals that you are
looking to achieve that you would like to discuss?

My long-term career goal is to obtain a tenure-track faculty position where I can lead my own independent research group and have formal teaching and service responsibilities. Ideally, I would love to teach develop and teach undergraduate courses. I would also be thrilled to return to a biomedical engineering/bioengineering department. However, I am also open to and actively exploring opportunities within a medical center, such as in an orthopaedic surgery or basic science department.

As much as I am passionate about my science and research, I have come to realize that I am only
energized to do this work when I can be engaged in mentoring students and contributing to service initiatives that align with my own ideals. Although things move slowly in academia, I am cautiously optimistic about the shifting culture within my own field and at large. Through my postdoctoral fellowship at HMS, I am interested in designing and teaching an engineering course module that encourages undergraduate students to approach pressing healthcare challenges through a humanitarian and social equity lens. Of course, one priority of mine is to continue expanding access to LGBTQIA-focused professional development and mentoring opportunities in engineering.

1-2.jpg