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Alumni Spotlight: Bianca Yu, B.S. '20, M.S. '23

Recent BioE graduate Bianca Yu shares a bit about her journey here at Stanford and beyond.

My first dream jobs - you know, whenever they asked when you were younger: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ varied from volleyball coach to ballerina to even a pastry chef (inspired by my mother's culinary background). One day, I sat in my freshman biology class with a clear goop produced from a strawberry on my fingertips. I had extracted DNA from the strawberry. It was the first time I realized that all of this science stuff we are learning from textbooks is real. I can see it. It’s right there. This was a mind-blowing moment; science is cool, DNA is real, and this is fun. 

This experience led me to a program my high school, Ladue Horton Watkins High School, participated in called Project Lead the Way. I was introduced to engineering, which was much more than I thought it was. I learned CAD. I learned how to reverse-engineer products. I found a satisfying outlet for my creativity in building prototypes. This was the first course I took that felt like play to me.

On the other side, I remember visiting my father at the hospital where he was a pediatrician. My mother and I would bring him dinner, and at those visits, I saw the impact he and other medical professionals had on the children they helped. Being healthy is a universal need; people need to be healthy no matter where they are in the world couldor their background. I knew then that I wanted to contribute to that cause. When I heard about biomedical engineering, it combined all three things I had become fascinated with — emerging as a field aligned with my interests in biology, engineering, and medicine. When it came time to select a college, we had just learned about decision matrices in my engineering class, so I made one, listing out places with bioengineering programs, opportunities to continue studying jazz piano, and, my most heavily weighted criterion: proximity to Trader Joe's (a staple at my home in St. Louis). Stanford stood out among the rest for its strong bioengineering program (and the Trader Joe’s across the street).

Bianca Yu, MS '23 using a pipette in lab.

Thinking back on my experience in BioE, many vital moments jumped out to me. I was a very shy kid, and a bit of that carried over when I arrived at Stanford. In my first year at Stanford, I rarely actively reached out to other students in my major, so it wasn’t until my sophomore year in BIOE 101 that I took a chance and accepted an invitation from a fellow BioE student to work on P-sets during office hours. I am so glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone because I found a close-knit group of friends in BioE from that study group. They helped me overcome my shyness and feel a sense of community throughout the rest of my time at Stanford; we even met up at graduation for the Wacky Walk. Another pivotal moment came on the first day of BIOE 123. Ross (Venook, BioE Senior Lecturer) asked us all to share a failure of ours. That icebreaker introduced me to the joy of learning through creative design and failure; it pointed to limitations I was putting on myself to avoid risk or feel this sense of imposter syndrome. I feel so grateful that I was able to share that joy when I served as a teaching assistant for the same course as a graduate student. Thanks to that class, I have built a sense of exploration and curiosity in how I do science and leave out the pressure of academic perfection.

I used this sense of exploration outside academics as well, trying out different creative outlets, including picking up jazz guitar, a stint as a member of Stanford Harmonics, and even pursuing an international internship to work on biomechanics and French at the same time. In my graduate coursework, I focused on learning mechanical engineering and robotics in order to gear up for a career in motor rehabilitation. I have also gained experience in neurotechnology, inspired partly by my senior capstone simulation project in undergrad, which opened up new possibilities for me, such as working with a company that formed out of the Biodesign Innovation Fellowship, Auricle Health. Bioengineering has so much depth and diversity. Its nature is multidisciplinary, and there is so much I can discover and innovate. I am excited to continue contributing to bioengineering and will always seek to explore this field's limitless possibilities. 

Following graduation in June 2023, Bianca Yu moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, to begin her doctoral program in Neuroscience with the NeuroRestore lab. She is working on clinical research focused on upper-limb motor rehabilitation for patients with paralysis resulting from spinal cord injuries. 

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