Melody Tan, PhD Candidate
Bioengineering, Rice University
AWIS Member since 2018
“Networks are critical when faced with systemic issues such as sexism, sexual harassment, and toxic work environments—especially when there’s a power differential as there is in academia.”
Where do you work as a STEM professional?
I’m a doctoral candidate in bioengineering at Rice University. My thesis research involves using optical imaging to improve the diagnosis of oral cancer. I also intern at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy Center for Health and Biosciences.
What do you consider to be an important career achievement or milestone and why?
Despite being relatively early career, I’ve already explored and understand a lot of different roles: I focused on global health during undergraduate, earned a Master of Science and Engineering in Bioengineering Innovation and Design and then consulted in the medtech industry. Currently, I’m in academia and am teaching, working on science policy, and active in politics.
Describe an amazing opportunity in your STEM career?
I was a 2019 Mirzayan Fellow at the National Academies for Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, where I worked on cancer policy. During this period, I also had the opportunity to attend think tank events, congressional hearings, U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments and participate in AWIS’ advocacy day on Capitol Hill.
What challenges have you encountered in your career, and how did you address it?
I started my PhD right before the 2016 election and then seriously questioned whether this path would allow me to address the most pressing issues, e.g., immigration and access to healthcare, in my community. I decided to continue my program but have concurrently immersed myself in grassroots community organizing.
How do you help women in STEM achieve their full potential?
I’ve been working to create opportunities for STEM trainees and professionals to increase their civic and political engagement. Last summer, I organized a STEM forum where local candidates discussed their stances on issues—including women’s health—which was well-attended by trainees from my program.
What is your best tip for other women in STEM to succeed?
I’d encourage other women to build a network of supportive peers and mentors. These networks are critical when faced with systemic issues such as sexism, sexual harassment, and toxic work environments—especially when there’s a power differential as there is in academia.
Melody Tan is a doctoral candidate in bioengineering at Rice University, where her thesis research involves using optical imaging to improve the diagnosis of oral cancer. She also holds a Master of Science and Engineering in Bioengineering Innovation and Design from Johns Hopkins University and Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering and Global Health Technologies from Rice University. Melody interns at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, where she has written about vaccine misconceptions in the Texas State Legislature and started a group equipping students to engage with policymakers. In her free time, Melody enjoys registering voters, volunteering for campaigns and running long distances. Rice University is an AWIS Institutional Partner.