WNCG Alum Joyce Ho Joins Emory Faculty

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Dr. Joyce Ho, who graduated from WNCG in December 2015, began her tenure-track faculty position with Emory in January of this year. With the startup she cofounded, Accordion Health, gaining traction in the Austin technology scene and her new faculty position, life and work are really picking up the pace for Dr. Ho. Only a few weeks into the start of her new career, WNCG sat down with this alumna to discuss her time at WNCG and the challenges and triumphs she looks forward to on her new academic path.

Q: How did you originally connect with the opportunity at Emory?

A: On the advice of one of my collaborators during an IBM internship, who is now a professor at Georgia Tech, I spent a summer at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and was able to visit Emory. I later saw a posting that they were looking for a junior faculty member for data mining, life science informatics and healthcare, and it seemed like a good fit for me, especially since Emory’s medical school is the biggest healthcare system in Georgia. It seemed like a good opportunity to marry my research interests with my academic ideal of being a professor. I’m excited to work for Emory in part because it’s a small, private university that places an equal emphasis on teaching and research, unlike some schools that place more of an emphasis on one or the other.

Q: Why choose a career in academia rather than industry?

A: I tried industry for several years after completing my master’s degree - but a part of me has always enjoyed teaching. I had good teachers growing up who really made me interested in math and science so I feel like it would be good to give back.

In industry, unless you’re the cofounder of a startup or the boss, you typically don’t determine the direction of your research unless you change jobs. In academia, you have more freedom. Some of your work will be driven by grants, so not everything is exactly what you want. But my WNCG advisors, Profs. Joydeep Ghosh and Sriram Vishwanath, have such a breadth of research and get to try many different things through their students. I’m excited to face different challenges.

Q: What do you look forward to the most about your new career? What do you foresee will be the biggest challenges?

A: Emory undergraduates are very proactive and I’m excited to work with them. I currently work with students on data mining challenges and competitions. I see these challenges as a way for me to learn how to properly mentor students. At WNCG, I saw how Profs. Ghosh and Vishwanath mentor their students, but you never know until it’s your turn to mentor if their style is going to work for you and what the best way for you to mentor will be.

I’ve been told that the hardest part of being a faculty member is learning to say no, and I’m wondering when I’ll learn that. I want to learn when is a good time to say no and when is a bad time to say no and when to apply the advice. I think it’s easier for faculty who have been in this field for a while, because they know what’s worth their time and what’s not and what, in the end, would be fulfilling.

Other than that, the biggest challenge is going to be securing research funding and writing grants. I have business writing experience from founding a startup under Prof. Vishwanath and I helped Prof. Ghosh write a grant for his phenotype project, but I have never written a grant alone from scratch. I think that part will be a bit challenging.

Q: How did your time at WNCG help prepare you for your new role?

A: With the different poster sessions and seminars, WNCG provides many opportunities to present talks about your research, which prepare you to give high level overviews of your interests, and gets you used to the interviewing process. WNCG visitors come from academia and industry, so these talks prepare you for life in both worlds.

Before my interview with Emory, I had a mock interview with WNCG Profs. Alex Dimakis, Constantine Caramanis and Sujay Sanghavi. Even though they were not my advisors, I could still seek advice from these other faculty members and they were very helpful. By the time I had my one-on-one interviews at Emory, I knew what to expect and it didn’t come across as my first time being interviewed in an academic setting.

During the mock interview, the WNCG professors gave me a lot of advice. You want to try to be inquisitive, ask questions, and make sure the interview is a dialogue and not a one way street. That advice was very helpful.

What I remember most from UT is, whenever I would assist Prof. Ghosh’s class, he and I would walk to class together. It was those off-the-beaten-path conversations that I remember most. At the end of the day, the life advice from those talks was what I really came away with.

Q: What advice can you give current students with similar career aspirations?

A: Ask questions, be inquisitive and utilize your advisor. Although I spent a lot of time with both my advisors, I wish I had gotten more advice and feedback. I wish I had interacted with them more. I feel like I could sit with them every day and still not learn everything they have to offer.

My advisors gave me suggestions about how to approach a problem, but made me see it’s really more about the meta idea of how you think about a problem. In the moment, you just think something is a great solution, but behind it, there was some overarching idea, some meta-advice.

Don’t just think about publishing, think about the problem. Yes, publishing’s important. Yes, you want to get your name out there, but don’t get lost in that tunnel and forget about the bigger picture.