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Stephen Yi: A Passionate Mentor for Early Career Researchers

Sept. 20, 2021

This news feature is part of Dell Med's Voices, a series of profiles that highlight the people of Dell Med as they work to improve health with a unique focus on our community.

S. Stephen Yi, Ph.D.

Even as cancer rates continue to rise globally, treatment options are becoming increasingly sophisticated. S. Stephen Yi, Ph.D., director of bioinformatics at the Livestrong Cancer Institutes and assistant professor in Dell Med’s Department of Oncology, is one of the researchers supporting this work behind the scenes — and is training the next generation of researchers who want to do the same.

Yi’s lab is dedicated to cancer biology and therapeutics. He and his students are computationally focused, meaning they use bioinformatics to gain a large-scale understanding of how genetics and the environment affect cell behavior — for example, the way networks of cells will respond to cancer drugs.

Yi, a decorated researcher who has received accolades like an NIH Outstanding Investigator Award, NIH Early Career Development Award, and a Susan G. Komen Career Catalyst Research Grant, is mindful of the potential applications of his work.

“We’re entering an era of personalized precision medicine, and there’s an enormous amount of information needed to understand how patients’ bodies will respond to new types of treatments,” Yi says. “We collect that data and seek out patterns that can help us know how to create the most effective therapies possible.”

Paying It Forward

Along the way, Yi has benefited from the guidance of supportive mentors; in particular, he counts his work with researchers Susan Lindquist and Marc Vidal as formative to his research interests and capabilities during a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. Yi is now dedicated to paying it forward, and for his efforts, he was the recipient of Dell Med’s inaugural Ken Shine Award for Excellence in Research Mentorship.

“I strongly believe in well-rounded mentoring,” Yi says. “In particular, I aim to support and create space for students from underrepresented backgrounds in the health sciences to succeed. I’m really proud of my students’ work and am grateful to be able to teach them.”

Rahul Pentaparthi, one of Yi’s mentees, received UT Austin’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship, sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research. Pentaparthi points to Yi’s vast network of local and national partners as opportunity builders for students entering the field.

“Dr. Yi’s strength as a mentor stems from his commitment to collaboration,” Pentaparthi says. “He also connects students with different experience levels on each project team, and provides us with significant freedom in organizing the project. This helped me develop my technical skills as a researcher alongside my understanding of mentorship and leadership, providing valuable experience in preparation for my career in medicine.”