Stephanie Tan(Taylor, 2014 -15) - OC of the Month March 2021
Friday, 12 March 2021

Our OC of the Month for March 2021 is Stephanie Tan(Taylor, 2014-15)

During a break in her University studies in America, due to the Covid 19 pandemic, Stephanie returned to New Zealand and has spent the last few months researching and collating data on Saliva testing from other countries while providing information on such to our leading health professionals including Dr. Ashley Bloomfield as well as Health Minister Chris Hipkins. Stephanie initiated the country’s conversation by advocating strongly for the introduction of Covid 19 saliva testing to be adopted here and has been part of several TV interviews and discussions on the subject. She is now a regular Science Correspondent on Jessie Mulligan’s show on Radio New Zealand National. With saliva testing currently being trialled in NZ Stephanie now plans to return to Yale University in America in August 2021. You can read more about Stephanie in our Autumn Courier due out in April and we hope you enjoy her OC of the Month interview below.

When you were at King’s College, what did you want to do for a career after you graduated?
I honestly didn’t think about any specific careers. I just knew I couldn’t imagine my life without science, so I started university as a Chemistry major. 
What is your best memory of your time at King’s College? 
Running sprints and hurdles. The track was my sanctuary - it was peaceful training by myself, then riveting and alive on athletics days. The cheering you have from your House is unreal, I’ve never seen an entire school get behind every participant so much and celebrate everyone’s performances. 
Which staff member do you remember most favourably from King's College and why?
So many, it’s too hard to pick one so here are a few! They all genuinely believed in my academic potential and provided safe environments for me to be my best self. As my father passed away in my childhood, it was especially meaningful growing up with very kind, male role models. 
Mr. Chas Foxall – love his eccentricity. He provided us with so much humour and wisdom from his many adventurous and youthful experiences. He also stuck a scan of my painting onto his office wall and showed my work to many people, which meant the world to me. 
Doc Huffadine – hilarious Chemistry teacher with a loving nature. He’d make classes incredibly fun with explosive experiments. I’m also grateful that he, as a Housemaster (go Major!), gave me the opportunity for compassionate leadership.
Mr. David O’Halloran – he took our small, tight-knit Marine Biology class on a fun trip to Waipu. He was fantastic, kind and humorous, and helped me to feel comfortable being the only female in class.

What advice would you give to your school age self?
Don’t compare yourself to others, you are more than enough. 
Also, if someone is being mean to you, don’t take it too personally. No one wakes up and chooses to be unkind, they are probably in pain and are taking it out on you. Instead, ask if they’re doing okay, express how your feelings were hurt, then work together towards resolution. 
Tell us about yourself now and what you do for a career?
I’m about to start graduate school at Yale! I’m absolutely thrilled to be studying a Master of Public Health, concentrating in Social and Behavioural Sciences. I’m determined to increase healthcare access (especially to mental health treatment) and develop solutions to reduce social inequalities. This includes eliminating discrimination based on race, financial status, and gender, to ultimately enhance our well-being and livelihoods. 
I’m also excited to learn about policymaking and have gotten a taste of this through my current, unexpected pandemic role as a Public Health Professional and Researcher for the Yale School of Public Health. The media exposure of my work also led to Jesse Mulligan inviting me onto Radio New Zealand as their Science Communicator. 
What does/did your job involve?    
I have been advocating for and supporting the implementation of COVID-19 saliva testing to revolutionise how we fight the virus in New Zealand. As saliva testing is drastically cheaper and drooling in a tube is much more comfortable than the large invasive swabs that go through our nose, it is way easier to test frequently. This ultimately prevents COVID-19 transmission and saves lives. 
To ensure saliva testing works smoothly here, I have been collaborating with and providing science/health expertise to New Zealand government leaders and groups, including the Ministry of Health, along with many other stakeholders that enhance our nation’s pandemic response. 
I have also been first-authoring a research article on all the COVID-19 saliva testing methods used globally, and have used this work to inform how New Zealand should roll out saliva testing with the utmost safety and strength.
In terms of my radio speaking, Jesse Mulligan interviews me on science and health topics. You can listen to our fun and meaningful conversations here. 
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
Conducting a lot of it remotely. I deeply miss the presence of colleagues/friends in supportive, scholarly environments where they not only provide a shoulder to cry on during your lows, but also really celebrate your highs. 
What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?
Personally, creating a family out of phenomenal friends and staff at Cornell University when I moved to America for my undergrad. 
Professionally, gaining admission into Yale for graduate school and representing them now with my public health work. It’s been surreal leading New Zealand’s conversation on COVID-19 saliva testing, bringing our nation’s leaders and health experts together and watching us all share expertise and precious data for the sake of public health. This collective effort has led to saliva testing being rolled out now at the airport/border, quarantine hotels, and retirement villages to protect those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19! Receiving a thank you letter for my contribution to New Zealand from Minister Chris Hipkins recently also really warmed my heart. 
What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?
For the COVID-19 pandemic to end.
What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
Contact lenses, a hammock (multifunctional if you think about it) and my partner Blake.
How would you like to be remembered?
Compassionate, kind and bold.