Statistical geneticist

About This Project

I consider myself to have been lucky in life. I grew up in a rural part of Zhejiang Province. The area probably isn’t well known to many people in Australia, or in China. I achieved a high score in the national exams and went on to study at one of China’s leading institutions, Zhejiang University.


I spent nine years studying biology and, later, statistical genetics, which has become my specialist area. I knew I wanted to continue studying overseas but didn’t know exactly where. Around 2006, I was invited to contribute to a major project for three months in Perth, Western Australia. I enjoyed the beaches and the small-city feel. A year later, I was lucky to meet University of Queensland (UQ) Professors Peter Visscher and Mike Goddard at a conference in Hangzhou. They furthered my interest in coming to Australia. With Peter’s encouragement, I went to Brisbane in 2007 to present a seminar on my PhD research. The following year, after my doctorate was finished, I went to Brisbane to work with Peter and we have been colleagues, and close collaborators, ever since.


Skipping ahead ten years or so… I received a call from Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. I was at home by myself and I was expecting a call from a real estate agent, or my wife − or anyone else really. He told me that I had won one of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science; the 2017 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. I couldn’t believe it. I called my wife straight away and gave her the news. She used to be a science teacher and was thrilled as well. Later that day, the weight of the honour really hit me. I settled back into my work, but with a new feeling that I really had to live up to the award from my adopted home country.


Of course, the work is a team effort and I feel lucky to be part of a world-class team which, every year, attracts the best and brightest in statistical genetics from Australia, Europe and elsewhere. In particular, I feel lucky to have been able to recruit promising Chinese researchers from my alma mater in Hangzhou to our project here at the UQ. Over time, they will form the kind of professional and personal relationships in Australia that I’ve enjoyed. And who knows? One Sunday morning one of them might also get a call from the Chief Scientist…


Jian Yang is Professor, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

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