National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
National Institutes of Health
Research Triangle Park, NC, USA
Research interests: sex determination, Sertoli cell fate determination, Leydig cell differentiation, male germ cell development, Wolffian duct maintenance, developmental origins of adult reproductive tissues
Humphrey Yao, Ph.D., is the Principal Investigator within the Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology at National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS/NIH) . Dr. Yao received his doctoral degree at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1999 and then completed his postdoctoral training at Duke University Medical Center in 2002. He became Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Biosciences at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 2003 and received tenure in 2009. Dr. Yao became the Principal Investigator at NIEHS in 2010.
Q: How was your interest in field of andrology developed?
Dr. Yao: I was first exposed to reproductive biology when I was a junior in college. Thanks to an undergraduate internship, I spent two summers under the guidance of Professor Paulus Wang at Yang Ming University in Taipei, Taiwan. The first day in the lab I was asked to decapitate rats and collect their pituitaries and testes! It was such an eye-opening and incredible experience for a young college student who knew nothing about research. I was totally hooked by the excitement of discovering new things and of course, the topic of reproduction. Although I did not choose testis as the model organ for my doctoral work (I study the ovaries instead), I maintain a strong interest in male reproduction. I love both testis and ovary very much, so I decided to study sex determination for my career. That way I can work on both organs. The training on both testis and ovary gives me a unique perspective on how to approach questions in Andrology.
Q: Tell us about the work that you are most proud of.
Dr. Yao: The project on fetal Leydig cell specification by the Hedgehog pathway is particularly dear to my heart because this is the work I developed as a postdoc and the foundation of the research in my own lab. The discovery of how steroidogenic cell lineage is established not only helps us understand basic testis biology, but also opens new directions on how other steroidogenic organs such as adrenal and ovary acquire their steroid-producing cell types.
Q: What is the key to success in the field of andrology, given the impact of recession/lack of grants?
Dr. Yao: The key for my success is that I am able to establish the brand of my research very early in my career. The brand is a reflection of your training, credibility, quality of the research, and your personality. Presenting your research at the meeting, introducing yourself to other scientists, and participating in the functions of the Society are ways to build your brand. When people see your name on papers or grant proposals, do they recognize you? If so, what is their impression of you and your research?
Q: What has been the impact of the ASA membership in your career?
Dr. Yao: ASA membership gives me the opportunity to interact with many prominent scientists, who generously provide me invaluable advice on my career. Chances to share my work with peers are abundant in the Society. ASA also allows me to serve on different functions of the society business. These practices enable me to build my brand and make other scientists appreciate my research.
Q: One advice you would like to give to students entering in this field.
Dr. Yao: Be honest to yourself that this is the career you really want to pursue. Enthusiasm toward science is not enough to carry you through the journey. Do you have the resilience to overcome rejection and the patience to withstand the long process of making discovery and getting grants?