March is Women’s History Month, a time to recognize the extraordinary achievements, courage, persistence, and contributions of women worldwide. This is the second profile of some of the women at 23andMe who inspire us each day.
Shirley Wu, PhD, 23andMe Director of Health Product Science, has always been driven by curiosity.
Shirley’s parents were both scientists, and she credits them with her choice in study. But she says her fascination with science was also fueled by her early passion for nature. As a child, Shirley’s idea of a good time was exploring mice tunnels behind her house, or pretending she was a forager in the woods.
That interest propelled her through her Ph.D studies in biomedical informatics from Stanford University, where she focused on computational methods for predicting protein function. While she loved science there was a moment in her academic career when she nearly quit grad school to pursue design, because she felt she wanted a career with an expressive element to it. That’s where 23andMe came in.
It was here where she first had the opportunity to write about science in a way that helped people understand and share in her fascination with DNA and the world around us. It has been incredibly motivating and rewarding for her.
Shirley’s first role at 23andMe was doing scientific content curation, essentially reviewing the latest science in the field to interpret new genetic results for customers. It’s a fundamental part of what we do — communicating clearly about relevant science to our customers.
When she joined the company, we had just a few dozen employees. Shirley was responsible for keeping track of papers recently published in scientific journals, reviewing them for any promising findings, and then vetting to see if they pass our stringent scientific standards. But her role quickly grew to encompass scientific and health content overall. It was her strong technical background, eye for detail, and relentless commitment to creating an accessible and engaging experience for customers without sacrificing scientific rigor that would propel her to be the Director of Health Product Science today. She now leads the team responsible for our Health product and helps make our science exciting, relevant and accessible to everyone. Most recently Shirley was instrumental in ushering 23andMe’s new Type 2 Diabetes Health Predisposition report from its initial conception through its launch for customers.
But she is still driven by curiosity and a fascination with genetics. Shirley once said, “DNA is a history of all the life on the planet that led us to this point” — which, when you think about it, is an incredible thing.