Major: Kinesiology - Health Sciences Concentration

Research Advisors: Louise McCullough, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Ashley Meyer and Traber Giardina, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

For Julia Shi, the main draw of the health sciences major was the combination of coursework on public health and uniquely interdisciplinary electives.

Shi cultivates a multifaceted perspective on human health, examining both the biomolecular causes of disease and its impact on human experience. Her research endeavors combine these two passions. At McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, she studies the relationship between social isolation and ischemic stroke under the guidance of Dr. Louise McCullough. Shi enjoys the hands-on aspect of lab work at UTHealth. “It allowed me to apply and build on what I’ve been learning in class,” she said. “Hearing a lecture about cDNA synthesis and PCR in cell biology and performing these techniques myself are completely different experiences.” Now remote, she continues to learn from the research of others by helping with a systematic literature review on the role of short, gene-regulating RNA molecules called miRNAs in stroke.

Shi also works at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center through the Health, Humanism, and Society Scholars (HHASS) program. “It really opened up opportunities for me to pursue experiential learning in the medical center,” said Shi. The HHASS program connects students with researchers who are interested in mentoring undergraduates and investigating topics in medical humanities and social sciences.

At the VA medical center, Shi works with Dr. Ashley Meyer and Dr. Traber Giardina to examine patient experiences with misdiagnosis to reduce diagnostic error. “I really value the opportunity I have at the VA because I was born with a rare syndrome that was diagnosed when I was 15. That sparked a lot of personal interest in the diagnostic process and how physicians collaborate to find a diagnosis when they don’t have the answers.” Shi continues to help analyze patient data from her home in Pennsylvania.

“Outside of these engagements, I make it a priority to engage creatively,” Shi said. “I’m learning how to write and produce music through the Rice Music Collective right now, which has been a fun and frustrating experience.” Additionally, she runs a virtual gaming group with her friends. Shi encourages other students to take time to socialize. “I’m always extra motivated to get my work done when I know I have time later to get together with people and hang out,” she said.

In her extracurricular activities, Shi strives to improve human health on a societal level by promoting humanitarian causes. As one of the founding members of Rice UNICEF, she helps create meaningful new learning opportunities for the Rice community. These programs include human trafficking prevention trainings with United Against Human Trafficking and the Rice UNICEF summer internship program, which placed 16 students in government and nonprofit positions in summer of 2020. The club recently forged new collaborations with Rice’s Political Science and Social Policy Analysis Departments, and Shi hopes to work with even more on-campus groups this year.

After graduation, Shi plans to pursue an MD/MPH or MD/MSHP. “The public health training will allow me to apply what I learn from the clinic towards improving the U.S. healthcare system as a whole.” Her Rice education and future medical training will help her advance health at the nexus of science and society.