sNAPAshots: Yaya Ren

[NAPA Logo] sNAPAshots: Conversations with Professional, Practicing, and Applied Anthropologists. Yaya Ren, Ph.D. Founder | CEO | Chief Anthropologist, PreeMe+You. PracticingAnthropology.org Twitter, Meta, LinkedIn Logos
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Interviewer 0:02
[On Screen Image: NAPA Logo] Welcome to sNAPAshots conversations with practicing, professional, and applied anthropologists. Let’s meet our next practicing anthropologist: YaYa Ren.

Yaya Ren 0:16
I am a medical anthropologist by training. And my dissertation work was focused on understanding the bio-cultural/bio-social constructs of personhood at the beginning of life. And what that means is really looking at a infants gestation and how infants become members of families and of societies. But really looking at it from both a developmental perspective. What are the genetics? What are the developmental physical milestones? How do different cultures understand those milestones? And then what happens when the fetal growth and development process goes awry in the context of a premature birth? And so from that point, I particularly studied the neonatal intensive care unit, what happens to premature babies in their development, both physiologically, biologically, but then also, how do they become integrated into society? And how do parents interact in this very uncertain time? And so I started studying health journeys and patient communications, and provider-patient interactions. And my dissertation work allowed me to start thinking about how can we augment better empathetic patient experiences and hospital systems? How can we address health disparities? How can we address information access? How can we hold people that are going through a difficult medical journey and give them the empowerment to not only go through the journey but also meet their own medical needs? Because so much of modern medicine right now is individual patients have to self advocate, there are things that they can do to help their own better health outcomes. But how do we pull all those things together? And how do you partner with your medical teams? And so I was able to create a platform and a tool. And it’s the extension of a lot of my dissertation work, but that’s now out in the real world, being utilized by neonatal intensive care teams and patients.

Interviewer 2:43
How did you get interested in anthropology,

Yaya Ren 2:46
I was born in Taiwan, but also lived in the Middle East as a young person, being out kind of in the desert areas, interacting with the Bedouins, and then moving from that to New Jersey, have completely different cultural landscape. And then I did High School back again, in Asia, I now lived in California, I also changed a lot of schools, just you know, within the United States. And I think every sub community has a slightly different culture, and different groups of people. And so that really got me interested in how do I as a young person, you know, integrate into new social environments. And I was a very introverted, quiet person, and I would do a lot of observing. And when I took my first anthropology class, it was really exciting that somebody who was maybe a quiet observer had a lot of thoughts and wisdom and knowledge that then anthropologist said was really important data. And from that data, you could create tools, you could impact culture, you could enter new social spaces and make new friends.

Interviewer 4:02
How has the anthropological perspective or training enhanced your contribution to your workplace?

Yaya Ren 4:12
I think the easiest way that anthropology has enhanced what I’m doing is that it really provided the insights to build the tools that are effective for patient care. But on a more nuanced, subtle side, when you step outside of academia, to get any project launched, there are all kinds of practical leadership skills, and presentation skills and skills that are informal ways of bringing people together and activating different parts of a team. And anthropology really has trained me to hear people’s stories on my team, but also To understand and help them articulate, what are the things about a job that gets them excited? What are the skills that they’re particularly good at. And then this way, I can set up my team so that everybody is set up for success. For every person that’s really good at details, there’s somebody that’s a big thinker. For somebody that likes more hands on touches, there’s also somebody that doesn’t, you know, that wants to sort of lead and have the capacity to just launch something without having to ask for permission. And so I think being an anthropologist allows me to interact with people and really hear how they like to work so that we create a really thoughtful team environment where people are motivated.

Interviewer 5:50
What was the one thing about the practice of anthropology that nobody told you as a student?

Yaya Ren 1 5:54
The one thing that no one ever told me that I would have to do as a student is how to define what anthropology is, and what is an anthropologist. Like, nobody taught me like basic definitions of how to communicate that to a wider audience. And I feel like I constantly need to do that. And that’s not actually a very simple thing to do. I know in academia, we’re often taught to put our skills out there. First, declare, I’m an anthropologist, I think the first thing to do in a non academic setting is to have the sort of social leadership, having that Presentation of Self of being in a meeting and asking everybody to start sort of like, what is your role, and being a good listener, without putting yourself out there first, I think that’s really important. And I also think the other training is to be operational. And I think that is something I didn’t quite get in my training in graduate school, because the power of anthropology is that it’s very theoretical, has a lot of insights. But then we tend to just stop there, and to be able to carry the insights into something operational. There are also trainings around, how do you create, like an email that then, you know, in bullet points, very short bullet points, summarizes what happened in that meeting to push the next thing forward?

Interviewer 7:40
What advice would you like to pass on to future anthropologists seeking roles in professional fields,

Yaya Ren 7:47
I would like to say that there is a huge world out there, where anthropology is a tool that you can create things with, you can create the next kind of technology, you can start new fields, you can integrate that in all kinds of ways in the outside world that’s outside of academia. But that also allows you to stay engaged in academia in really exciting ways. And so I almost wish that I had that. Knowing in graduate school, I think there’s lots of internships out there, I think there are lots of ways in which people would love to use an anthropologist and I think you have to be very just, you know, step outside there and think about all the different ways you can use it. But you know, don’t think of your career as only being in academia where you, you know, publish papers and give insights. There are active ways in which anthropology is being used to create tools, to create art, to create processes. And so I would just invite them to think bigger about all the different ways to apply.

Interviewer 9:10
Thank you Yaya, for sharing your experience as a practicing anthropologist, for more sNAPAshots, find us at practicing anthropology.org, LinkedIn, Meta, and X.

Credits 9:21
PRODUCED BY Niel Tashima Cathleen Crain Joshua Liggett DIRECTED BY Reshama Damle Suanna Crowley EDITED BY Whitney Margaritis MUSIC BY by FASSounds via Pixabay CREATIVE ASSISSTANT Juana Lozano Many Thanks to NAPA’s Governing Council for supporting sNAPAshots Conversations with Practicing, Professional, and Applied Anthropologists NAPA is a section of the American Anthropological Association NAPA is seeking volunteers to join the sNAPAshots project. We’d love to hear from YOU! Contact us at: ntashima@ ltgassociates.com

Yaya Ren 9:23
[Outtakes] So I came into doing this work without any technical background. And so when we were designing a platform and an app, there were so many things I didn’t understand about the intricacies of technology, rather than feeling scared, which I was, I really used my anthropological skills. And I remember somebody saying to me, let’s put a project manager on this list. And I said, “No, no, actually, we’re not going to do a project manager. I’m going to be the project manager.” And so as the project manager I really started by spending time with each one of my developers and the UX designers. And I would sit down with them for weekly meetings. And I would just ask them questions like an anthropologist would go into the field.

Interviewer 10:19
[On Screen Image: NAPA Logo] sNAPAshots

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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