Student Spotlight: Xiaolu (Lucy) Wang

What is your area of research?

Xiaolu (Lucy) Wang, Economics

I am excited to study innovation and intellectual property rights in healthcare markets. Specifically, I investigate the causes and consequences of innovation in the biopharmaceutical industry and healthcare technology. First, I look at whether certain institutional forms (e.g., a patent pool) can facilitate global drug diffusion and innovation without creating an anti-competitive environment (antitrust concerns). I provide theoretical economic justifications and empirical estimation on the static and dynamic welfare consequences. Second, I investigate whether the return to medical innovation is significant compared to associated costs. I currently look at the costs and benefits in the creation and utilization of substitute and complementary health care technologies on patient care.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

As an amateur quasi-starving artist, I was curious as to how artists can stay creative and protect their works. When this curiosity on intellectual property rights merged with my appreciation for medical innovation, I discovered many pressing issues to study. I am excited and open my eyes wider every day. I am enlightened when communicating my research finding with researchers and industry practitioners across fields. And I am convinced that my research has the potential to make the world a better place.

Why is this research important?

Globalization and digitization have changed the world dramatically. International patent wars (battles to secure patents for litigation) and patent thicket (an overlapping set of patent rights that require licensees to obtain licenses from multiple patentees) make it more costly to conduct and commercialize intellectual properties. The patent wars and patent thickets are most cumbersome in biomedical innovation where patents and copyrights (including piracy) directly impact human life. For example, the ongoing battle between Berkeley University and the Board Institute at MIT on the ownership of CRISP-cas9 scared and shocked scientists on the licensing practice for this transformative technology in cancer research. The voice is getting louder among lawyers and legal scholars to call for welfare-improving IP reforms. Economic researchers have better tools to study some of these questions and make contributions. Meanwhile, economists have social responsibilities to understand the phenomena and use evidence-based research to inform policy. The world is changing, and we should stay tuned.

How do you integrate research into your teaching or vice versa?

I always find research and teaching complementary in my learning process. I frequently use mini-cases developed during my research to engage students I interact with during my TA-ship. This real-world, problem-based learning incentivizes students to think creatively and work collaboratively. Meanwhile, teaching helps me overcome my inner fear of public speaking and improves my presentation skills. I am also looking forward to working with undergraduates on research projects.

How has your background influenced your scholarship?

Growing up in a disadvantaged area, I witnessed from childhood how many people suffered from limited access to medicine. My empathy grows with my college research projects on health insurance, old-age financing, and an investigation in the “AIDS village” in China. The hope to understand and solve real-world problems with academic research made me switch to a graduate economics education from a finance and business background. Interestingly, my current research involves IP rights bundling on antiretroviral drugs (for HIV/AIDS patients), and I appreciate the chance to learn from experiences.

What else has influenced your thinking as a researcher or scholar?

My mentors and fellow graduate students have inspired me a lot. My culture, gender, and socio-economic identity make me more vulnerable in many circumstances and more appreciative of the opportunity and associated responsibility of being a researcher. The diversified student body in Cornell helps me think broader and learn from others’ experiences.

I understand you've been involved in some of CU-CIRTL's future faculty programming. Can you please elaborate on your participation in these programs?
My participation in CU-CIRTL programs started with attending the Future Professor Institute: Advancing Diversity in the Academy symposium last summer. I learned so much not only about diversity, but also about the cultures and values of my fellow Cornellians. Enlightened from this experience, I applied and was admitted to the graduate Intergroup Dialogue Project and had memorable moments learning from the other 15 scholars. The sharing among participants made me reflect on my identity from new angles. I discovered new and valuable parts of myself and others. The infusion of new values pushes me to step up and speak louder, with more confidence and empathy. I have also joined a few lunch/dinner discussions on academic job search, diversity, and mentorship. I currently serve as a Graduate Research and Teaching Fellow under the Center for Teaching Excellence, a program closely tied with CIRTL.

What are the benefits of participating in teaching professional development programs like these while in graduate school?

By participating in these programs I gain communication skills that increase my confidence as a researcher and teaching assistant. I am a non-native speaker with non-English undergraduate education, and I wasn’t totally comfortable and confident in teaching. With proper training, I am improving much faster than I expected. These programs have also demystified some of my confusion about teaching. They help me set better expectations and push me to learn in graduate school so I can “hit the ground running” once I become a faculty member in the future. Additionally, the interaction with graduate students from other disciplines is very inspiring. I particularly appreciate my dialogue with biomedical researchers in these programs, not only because I can learn from their research (since I study their fields with economics tools), but also because of the “aha” moments that occur to me when I acquire transferrable skills and real-world knowledge that enrich me as a scholar.  

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

First, I highly appreciate the interdisciplinary research atmosphere and shared resources within and across fields at Cornell. Second, the faculty and graduate students are very cheerful and supportive. Third, Cornell emphasizes teaching and learning, which I care a lot about as a learner and a scholar.

What’s next for you?
I will continue to work on my dissertation, to improve my skills in research and teaching, and to advance my understanding of diversity and inclusion. I wish to find an academic position upon graduation.

Any advice for incoming graduate students?
Embrace the vibrant academic environment and exercise to be an active winter warrior!

Interview by Sally Kral, communications and outreach assistant in the Graduate School