GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellowship Spotlight: Tianxia Xiao (GS, Chemistry)

Oct. 21, 2021

In the GradFUTURES Spotlight series, Princeton graduate students share in their own words about their experiences in one of the GradFUTURES Fellowship programs: the Community College Teaching Fellowship Program, the University Administrative Fellowship Program, or the GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellowship Program. 

Where and when did your Fellowship take place?

I was awarded a Social Impact Fellowship in Spring 2021 and participated in the project led by TechUnited:NJ.


I have built an interdisciplinary background in both social science and natural science during my undergraduate study at the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in Environmental Economics & Policy and Molecular Toxicology. Right after college, I came to Princeton to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry and later joined the Rabinowitz Lab to research in synthetic biology. My daily graduate study involves not only field-specific skills in analytical chemistry and metabolic engineering, but also generalizable skills in quantitative data analysis, scientific communication, and team management. 

What drew you to the GradFUTURES Fellowship and this particular Fellowship?

Around my second year in graduate school I became passionate about professional development programs for graduate students and interdisciplinary collaborations within and beyond academia, and so I started to get involved in the GradFUTURES initiative. It is amazing to see how the Social Impact Fellowship program came to maturation with the help of professionals with diverse backgrounds. When I saw the TechUnited:NJ fellowship overview, I saw how relevant it was to my professional interests in venture capital and start-ups and I stepped forward as an applicant. 

Can you share a bit about the Organization and the projects to which you contributed?

TechUnited is a non-profit organization that empowers innovators and entrepreneurs by creating a united community that harbors and catalyzes opportunities. I contributed to a collaborative project between NJ EDA, NJ Edge, and TechUnited to produce a a report outlining the innovation landscape in New Jersey, which aimed to identify the advantages and challenges of locating in New Jersey for new and existing business owners and employees.

How did these experiences help you?

It was an enriching experience in many aspects. It was an opportunity for me to put into practice my background in economics. And I witnessed how my analytical and writing skills (strengthened through my graduate research!) greatly accelerated my productivity in drafting the report. Moreover, being able to collaborate and directly receive guidance from the leadership of NJ EDA and NJ Edge was an empowering experience on its own.  

Can you share some reflections on the mentorship component of the Fellowship?

The mentorship I received from the experience is truly collaborative in its nature. When I was just getting started in my analysis, I was helped by learning about the big-picture for analyzing survey results from Rich, the chief economist from NJ EDA. As I went deeper in the project, Forough from NJ Edge met often with me and gave me directions that helped me to obtain perspectives from her contacts in governmental agencies. Throughout the project, Ana (who works as the marketing manager at TechUnited:NJ) also aided me to develop my project management skills.

Best advice for Graduate Students considering a Fellowship through GradFUTURES?

Be proactive in your approach to your professional development in graduate school. If you find your professional interest align with the mission of one of the GradFUTURES fellowship programs, then do not hesitate to apply! Even if you are just curious about the opportunity, take this as a sign that you should submit the application! At the very least you have a chance to chat with the collaborating organization about your curiosity and how you can develop a mutually-benefiting project together.

Read more GradFUTURES Fellowship Spotlights here!