Chinese Structural Biologist Nieng Yan Says Family Among Reasons for Return Home

Nieng Yan, a Chinese structural biologist and dean of the Shenzhen Medical Academy of Research and Translation, stated in a December 18 Weibo post that family is one of the main reasons behind her recent return to China, also discussing her parents’ experience of being infected by COVID-19.

Yan mentioned some interesting details about her parents’ experience during the pandemic. She said that although they became infected, they didn’t panic and resolutely refused to have her return to take care of them. During that time, Yan asked her parents to photograph all their meals and fruit, urging them to ensure a nutritious diet no matter how little appetite they had.

Yan revealed that when she chatted with her classmates two weeks ago and was asked why she returned home, no one mentioned family. “At my age, my family is the biggest concern. Although I am not in the same city with my parents at present, I know that I can get to them within half a day, which is very reassuring,” said Yan.

On November 1, Yan announced that she had submitted her resignation to Princeton University and would return home full-time to help establish the Shenzhen Medical Academy of Research and Translation. On December 10, the academy was officially established, with Yan serving as the dean. It will explore new mechanisms to encourage innovation, introducing and cultivating high-level talent as its key mission. Its main functions include scientific research, educational exchange, innovation incubation and policy consultation.

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Yan graduated from Princeton then returned to Tsinghua University in Beijing to teach. In April 2017, Yan left Tsinghua and was named the Shirley M. Tilghman Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. This is her second time returning to China for further career development.

Yan’s father said in an interview with Qilu Evening News in early November that Yan has deep feelings for her hometown and that her second return did not come as a surprise. “Whether in the United States or returning to the motherland, she has always been working for the development of biological science in China and even the world,” said Yan’s father. Although he knew little about his daughter’s specific scientific research, he always paid attention to her achievements and honors.

In fact, throughout the past decade, the amount of scientists returning to their home country of China has increased rapidly. According to data released by the Asian American Scholar Forum in September, more than 1,400 Chinese scientists in the US gave up their academic or professional positions and returned to China in 2021 – an increase of about 22% from the previous year. In April of this year, prominent mathematician Qiu Chengtong left Harvard to teach full-time at Tsinghua.