Scientist Pajau Vangay used to make ‘pretty code.’ Now, she studies guts.

Pajau Vangay

If you’d told scientist Pajau Vangay a decade ago that she would be injecting sterile mice with human stool samples and on the precipice of completing a doctorate in bioinformatics and computational biology, she might not have believed you. Back then, she was working in Silicon Valley and earning a very good living as a software engineer, writing what she calls “pretty code.” But Vangay was restless. With multiple degrees in computer science, she yearned to solve difficult math problems like the ones she had tackled as a student. Vangay also wanted to use her computational and computer science skills to make a bigger impact in the world.

Vangay found a way to merge her scientific and community commitments through the Immigrant Microbiome Project, a University of Minnesota research study focusing on groups typically overlooked by academic research — in this case, hundreds Hmong and Karen women living in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Thailand, including first- and second-generation immigrants to the US.

I reported this story for PRI’s Across Women’s Lives series. You can read the full story here. (Photo credit: Nancy Rosenbaum)