Dr. William Hsu

Meet Dr. William Hsu, a professor in the Department of Radiological Sciences, Bioinformatics, and Bioengineering and a member of the Medical & Imaging Informatics group. He also served as a faculty author in the 2023 issue of the UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal (USJ).

We had the opportunity to ask Dr. Hsu about his experience mentoring undergraduate students:

1. How would you describe your experiences with undergraduate research at UCLA?

I am a biomedical informaticist, someone who works with data, information, and knowledge to optimize their use for medical decision making. My lab works with clinical, imaging, and molecular data to diagnose cancers earlier. I have had a fantastic experience working with undergraduate trainees. While they come from different majors, such as computer science and computational and systems biology, they all share the same level of enthusiasm, motivation, and focus. It’s amazing how much they juggle, from coursework and other extracurricular activities, yet they come with passion and commitment to do research. I’m very grateful for them.

2. What are your most effective approaches to promote undergraduate research success?

In any mentoring relationship, it’s important to establish expectations. Research is a commitment and takes time to make progress. You will need to do a deep dive into a subject area. That means a lot of background reading and preparatory work. In my area of informatics, trainees need to understand where the data comes from, what algorithms to use to analyze the data, how to process and interpret the results, and why the algorithms may or may not have worked. I find it’s important to take the time to develop a solid background and not rush this step. I also make sure that undergraduate trainees see themselves as equal members of the lab. That means participating in lab meetings whenever possible, presenting their work in front of the lab, and interacting with other lab members.

3. What is your experience working with undergraduate students who want to develop their scientific writing and publish?

I’m always so impressed with undergraduates who express a desire to write and publish. My advice would be to start by reading a lot of scientific writing. Scholarly articles may seem daunting to read at first, but learning how manuscripts are often organized, particularly in the field you are publishing, is helpful. I would also say that scientific writing is an iterative process, and it often takes a lot longer than you think, so plan ahead if you’re aiming to submit work to a venue like the Undergraduate Science Journal.

4. What is your outlook on team science and collaboration? What advice would you offer students as they navigate team science?

In a translational field like biomedical informatics, it’s so critical to be involved in a team and to collaborate with people with different backgrounds and expertise. For example, I collaborate very closely with radiologists and other clinical colleagues who are deeply knowledgeable about the challenges of practicing medicine that inform the types of problems that we tackle in my lab. Without their input, I would be running the risk of spending a lot of time developing an innovative solution, but the problem may be something that is never encountered in practice, or the solution may be too impractical to deploy.

5. How do you support students as they navigate alternative career trajectories in research?

There are many opportunities to apply skills picked up from doing research beyond being in a lab or staying in academia. Research teaches you creative problem-solving, teamwork, networking, and communication skills, to name a few. When trainees leave my lab, I want them to be prepared and supported to enter a career that they are most passionate about, whether in academic research or in other areas, using the skills they learned while doing research.