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Women @ Energy: Joyce Yang

March 12, 2013 - 5:05pm

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Joyce Yang is a Technology Manager at DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office.

Joyce Yang is a Technology Manager at DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office.

Joyce Yang is a Technology Manager at DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office. In this role, she is focused on program planning and project management efforts on biochemical and catalytic conversion technologies to make renewable fuels and chemicals from biomass. Previously, Joyce led the algae to hydrocarbon fuel initiative. Her accomplishments include publishing the DOE National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap, serving on the External Advisory Board of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts consortium, and chairing the Interagency Algae Working Group under the Biomass R&D Board. She has written DOE blog entries and concept papers on biobased chemicals and biomanufacturing. Joyce was recently recognized as one of the Top 100 People in Bioenergy by the Biofuels Digest in 2012. Joyce’s efforts on behalf of DOE have been recognized internationally. She is a contributing author for the IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, and served as the US Advisor for the Organizing Committee of the 1st Asia-Oceania Algae Innovation Summit.

Joyce received her BA in Biochemistry from Rutgers University and her PhD in Genetics and Microbiology from MIT. Joyce completed a postdoctoral fellowship on bacterial genomics with a focus on enzymatic hydrolysis of woody biomass in marine ecosystems. She is an author on nine peer-reviewed articles, and serves on the editorial board of Algal Research and as an ad-hoc peer reviewer for the journals, Process Biochemistry, Environmental Science and Technology, and Energy Policy.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

Growing up, I was always fascinated by science, in many small and big ways. My father, who was a pharmacist, often took me to science museums and exhibits, and I was drawn to innovators and inventors – some of my childhood heroes were Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. My father’s work instilled a preference for me for life sciences, an interest in studying human health issues and microbiology. This preference was strengthened by an amazing chemistry teacher in high school, Mr. Altenderfer, and then nurtured in college by my professor, Dr. Huibregtse. Both of these mentors taught me how much fun it was to be in a science laboratory, which engaged both my brain and my hands to solve problems. I went into college interested in pre-medicine so I could be a doctor, but I discovered I was way too squeamish for medicine when I was tasked with suturing up a rat after an experiment my sophomore year. I think the rat did better than I did. I decided to major in biochemistry after that, and turned to a career in biofuels.

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

Working at the Department is a dream come true – it is a genuine privilege to serve the nation in this way and use my training and experience to work on critical national issues. Being a public servant is a great joy for me, and I wake up every day and know that my work has an impact for the tax payers. It’s very gratifying to know your work matters, and the Energy Department has enabled that. The work that I do on biofuels has been my main interest since graduate school, when I worked on a microbiology lab and researched natural products that would benefit the environment and eliminate waste. It is exciting to work with my colleagues to lessen dependence on foreign oil and fossil-based resources through our bioenergy technologies research and development.

3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I’ve always felt like science is a great equalizer. There isn’t anything inherent in science that predicates more success by one gender – it’s quite the opposite, really. If you want to matter, science is a gateway to doing important work. I think that young people would be attracted to science more if they see that science is what makes our everyday lives more comfortable, safe, and fulfilling. Science isn’t dry and stuffy – it’s what advances innovation and technology in this country, like cell phones, computers, the internet, and even materials like hiking shoes and carpets. We save lives through medical advancements that science made possible – these are immediate connections that science gives you to making a difference.

4)  Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

Stay engaged – find the fun in science and make a personal connection. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, so find how it means something to you and you’ll discover that you are thirsty for more information and the work isn’t a chore. For me, the fun in science has been how it impacts the rest of humanity – our research and development will mean something for us someday. I know that science can be hard, but it’s really worth the effort of staying engaged. Plus, you can’t forget that STEM jobs often mean high-paying jobs. The pay is a huge benefit and shouldn’t be underemphasized.

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I love photography. I take a lot of photos of people and landscapes, and a bit of everything else! I also play golf, cook a LOT, love eating great food, and I enjoy traveling and seeing the lifestyles of people in different countries like India. I spend a lot of time with my dog, a beagle and hound mix. We go on a lot of walks and hikes around the DC area.

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