Celebrating Women’s History Month: A Q&A with Department Faculty and Staff

This Women’s History Month, we are proud to highlight the Department of Population Sciences’ many outstanding women and their vital contributions to Weill Cornell Medicine and beyond.

Each woman brings a unique perspective to their role, helping create a more inclusive and robust department. From young professionals getting started in their careers to established researchers who are balancing family and professional lives, we admire them all. They are celebrated for their individual accomplishments, as well as their ability to inspire those around them to be their best. Here, get to know what motivates these faculty and staff, what they’re proud of, how they continue pushing forward during difficult times and more. 

Q: What is an accomplishment you are proud of?

Dr. Yuhua Bao, associate professor of population health sciences: In team science, it makes me proud to see that my conviction and commitment has kindled shared passion among team members and, in that process, brought out the best of everyone and the team, which is much more than the sum of individuals.

Dr. Natalie Benda, postdoctoral associate in population health sciences: I am proud of a publication in the American Journal of Public Health that I worked on, “Broadband Internet Access Is a Social Determinant of Health!”

Allison Krech, education manager: The work I have done with establishing, maintaining and enhancing the Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program is a proud accomplishment. I joined at the beginning of its first year and we are already gearing up to graduate our third cohort. I have gained many skills and experiences and have significantly grown professionally during my time with the program. 

Alexandra LaMar, senior program manager: I’m proud of having a big data profiling technology that I designed and developed become patented.

Dr. Jialin Mao, assistant professor of population health sciences: I am very proud of my career transition from a resident in surgery to a surgical and device researcher. It may seem like a straightforward move, but it definitely wasn’t at the time. After going into residency at one of the top hospitals in Shanghai, I realized clinical practice wasn’t for me. However, transitioning into research meant that I had to become a novice again. I went against conventional wisdom by giving up a stable career path and a potentially handsome income. Fortunately, I received a lot of encouragement from friends and family and people I met along the way. I am proud that I didn’t get carried away by the outside environment and followed my heart.

Elizabeth Mauer, research biostatistician III: I co-founded the Weill Cornell Medicine Biostatistics Computing Club, a casual forum for staff and faculty to learn new computational skills, specifically regarding biostatistical analyses. It’s a great way to bring people together to foster a sense of community and learning, and it allows members the opportunity for professional exposure. I have a lot of ideas for growing the club and am looking forward to seeing it develop. 

Dr. Sri Lekha Tummalapalli, assistant professor of population health sciences: Over the past several years, policy discussions in nephrology have been meaningfully advanced to promote early detection of kidney disease, value-based payment models, increased access to home dialysis and transplant, and patient-reported outcomes. These discussions culminated in the signing of the Advancing American Kidney Health Executive Order, but now the real work begins to make these visions a reality. I have been proud to contribute to these efforts.

Dr. Yiye Zhang, assistant professor of population health sciences and program director of the MS in Health Informatics: I am proud to be a working mom of a 7-year-old. I am proud to not have given up my dream of being a faculty member and a mom.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing women today? 

Alexandra LaMar: Probably ourselves; going beyond self-doubt to recognize our own worth, strength and accomplishments.

Dr. Jialin Mao: Women make up a bigger part of the workforce today than before, but some challenges remain the same. The burden is still on women to balance career and family life. As of now, the societal infrastructure is limited in terms of familial support for women. This is particularly true in academia, where performance is measured by scholarly output and is not expected to be affected by childbearing or other family situations unless they are very dire.

Elizabeth Mauer: Our culturally busy lifestyles. Sleep and mentally recharging are so important to be the best versions of ourselves. Women are taking on more than ever before and finding a sustainable balance between work and family life is difficult. With a record number of women leaving the workforce compared to men due to the pandemic, for many reasons but arguably a large one being childcare, it's evident that more sustainable solutions may be needed to support women and their multiple roles in society.

Dr. Rulla Tamimi, professor of population health sciences and chief of the Division of Epidemiology: Work, life, home balance is big challenge. Everyone wants to be their own version of a super woman and it is very challenging to balance all of the demands, while making time for yourself, too. Especially during the time of COVID, the lines between home and work are blurred. Girls night out, date nights, vacations — these are all things that help me recharge in normal times and they have been taken away or substantially reduced. We now have to be even more creative and resourceful to make things work for us and support our families.  

Dr. Sri Lekha Tummalapalli: Women in the workplace continue to be denied advancement and opportunities that they deserve. Reasons for this are multifactorial, including unconscious bias, discrimination, toxic workplace environments and inequitable childcare and caregiving responsibilities. If organizations want the best people, they must hire, retain and promote women based on their qualifications and contributions. Anything less is to the detriment of our economy and society. 

Q: Is there a woman who inspires you, and why?

Dr. Natalie Benda: Elizabeth Warren — she is a woman with concrete plans to advance equity for many different underserved groups. 

Andrea Cohen, executive director of strategy & business for clinical research: I am very inspired by my older sister. She is the first person who taught me about feminism and inclusion.  She is a professor at the University of Toronto and has two little girls, 4 and 1. I am inspired by the way she teaches her daughters about the importance of working, of being ambitious and finding the good in other people. Through this pandemic she has juggled a number of responsibilities, personally and professionally, all with grace, a sense of humor and determination. One of her best traits is being very present and focused in each moment and making sure the people around her know how important they are to her.

Allison Krech: I love to read and find myself consistently in awe when reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s work. The level of detail and care she takes with researching and her fictional world-building is incredible, and I really appreciate her perspectives and ideas.

Alexandra LaMar: My grandmother-in-law. She has survived through the Holocaust, the death of her parents, the death of her husband and the recent death of her son, and still has the biggest smile at age 96. 

Dr. Jialin Mao: Most Americans probably know Mulan from Disney. Mulan is more engrained in the Chinese culture, as there was a famous poem about her which we recited growing up. Traditionally in China, and even today, there is this bias that women are not encouraged to pursue higher level academic training after college or to be very ambitious in their careers. Mulan was a figure I drew strength from as she stood for the courage and the belief that there is nothing that’s achievable for men and untenable for women.

Elizabeth Mauer: My grand mom. She obtained a scholarship to Temple University. She went on to teach health and physical education at Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She coached basketball, field hockey and tennis and eventually became the Academy's first athletic director. She was inducted into the school's hall of fame, and in 2019 she was commemorated as a pioneer in women's athletics with the naming of the school's gymnasium in her honor.

Dr. Rulla Tamimi: I have close friends and colleagues who have been very open about sharing their struggles and successes. I am so grateful for their friendship and support. I love seeing how my female friends and colleagues mix and balance home and work — whether it’s bringing their children to work or mixing work conferences with vacations or blocking out personal time in their calendars. Or how others set up very clear boundaries. It helps to see other examples of how women navigate these challenges and make them work for them and their families.

Dr. Sri Lekha Tummalapalli: I am fortunate to have many inspiring women mentors who have supported me and allowed me to flourish. First among these is Dr. Michelle Estrella, a nephrologist and physician-investigator at University of California, San Francisco, who is paving the way towards better kidney biomarkers and technology-driven strategies. I am constantly inspired by Department chair, Dr. Rainu Kaushal, who is a remarkable leader and whose groundbreaking research has established health informatics as a cornerstone of healthcare reform.

Dr. Yiye Zhang: My PhD advisor, Dr. Rema Padman, who believed in me and supported me as I navigated having a family while pursuing my PhD remotely.

Q: What advice would you give to other women in your field?

Dr. Natalie Benda: Do not hesitate to point out instances of inequity, though it is typically better taken when you provide concrete examples without placing blame on an individual (where possible). 

Dr. Yuhua Bao: Each of us should have our own definition of meaningfulness and "success". Make sure you know what matters the most to you before your inner voice is overwhelmed by the voices of the world. Prioritize the things that really matter and let the rest take care of itself.   

Andrea Cohen: Not every career has to follow a straight line. When I first started working, I set very aggressive goals related to projects and promotions. However, the more open I became to opportunities, the more successful I became. I have enjoyed new experiences, such as teaching, that I would not have been able to experience if I stayed on a very narrow path. Taking risks and trying new things in your career will not set you back, but will help you build new skills and a stronger network — all of which will serve you well in your professional development. 

Alexandra LaMar: Be confident in your abilities. Understand that you have a seat at the table and use your voice. Don't take “no” as a rejection but as a redirection. What is yours will find you.

Elizabeth Mauer: My advice would be to take any opportunity to learn and gain new experiences. I've enjoyed being able to teach, help run the WCM Computing Club and work with many different departments in the hospital. Accepting new opportunities continually opens doors to more opportunities. This has helped me understand where my interests lie.

Dr. Rulla Tamimi: It is OK to say no to things. I have a hard time taking this advice and need to do better. But it is helpful to hear from colleagues, mentors, (your husband!), that it is not only OK to say no, but it is good to say no to things that are not in your best interest.

Dr. Sri Lekha Tummalapalli: First, apply and sign up for opportunities that excite you. You may be surprised what possibilities open themselves to you. Second, show up with a positive intention and desire to contribute. Third, speak your mind if you have something to say. Let the world benefit from your knowledge and gifts. Lastly, a caveat. Keep in mind that all advice comes from another person’s perspective. Seek advice from multiple sources and figure out what makes sense for you, based on what you want.

Q: What does it mean to be a mentor to other women in the industry?

Dr. Yuhua Bao: First and foremost, it means to be willing to listen and not quick to judge or provide advice.

Andrea Cohen: Being a mentor means helping people find the path that is right for them. I like to provide enough advice and resources that will empower women to make the right decision for themselves. I try to facilitate introductions to people, share opportunities for growth or promotion, or resources that might help inspire someone. For me, mentorship is about providing guidance and tangible support, not necessarily having all the right answers.

Allison Krech: Being a mentor could be something as little or informal as reinforcing other women’s voices in a meeting or advocating for another woman to take the lead on a project. Supporting others when you can and living as an example can be just as important or effective as formal mentor relationships.

Alexandra LaMar: Collaboration over competition. Raising up other women and leading by example. Women in leadership are still limited — the gap is not equal yet — and we need more women in the field to demonstrate that success is possible.

Dr. Jialin Mao: I know what it feels like to be a woman in this field so I am better able to provide the mental support for younger women to overcome the barriers they may face. Historically, women have had a small presence in workplace, so most of the mentors to women of our age are men. My male mentors are great and very supportive, but there are unique strengths of female mentors which hopefully can be made more available to women of later generations by having more women in the industry over time. 

Elizabeth Mauer: Being a mentor to other women in the industry encompasses the ability to: recognize the potential of a mentee and to foster that potential, serve as a trustful and comfortable resource for a mentee to turn to for advice and ultimately be an aspiring example for a woman mentee to look up to.

Dr. Sri Lekha Tummalapalli: Dozens of mentors have helped me at every step to find my path and purpose. There could be nothing more gratifying than to mentor others and see their talent shine. In particular, I find near-peer mentoring to be incredibly valuable for navigating academic medicine. My near-peer mentors in nephrology are some of the most meaningful relationships I have made. I look forward to mentoring people of all genders and those with an interest in health policy and/or nephrology to help them reach their highest potential.

The Department of Population Health Sciences addresses the intersection of health and practice. Serving as a collaborative and interdisciplinary hub for clinical research, the Department aims to improve the health of populations and reduce inequities through applied research, technological innovations and novel education programs. 

Population Health Sciences 402 E. 67th St. New York, NY 10065 Phone: (646) 962-8001