Courtesy of Shin-Yi Lin ’11
‘The importance of maternity work did not wane during the pandemic’

After the 2016 election, Dr. Shin-Yi Lin *11 and her husband Matt Weber *09 — both scientists who have been politically active in their community — felt a heightened responsibility to focus on civic engagement and volunteer work. 

However, Lin, a Los Angeles native of Taiwanese descent who lives close to Princeton with her family (she and Matt have three children), wondered if she was doing enough. Then she learned about the new Eagleton Science and Politics Fellowship, designed to bring scientists into public service. 

“I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down — especially when I learned I would be doing work in maternal health,” says Lin, who has a Ph.D. from Princeton in molecular biology, specializing in genetics and developmental biology. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and English from Amherst College. 

The fellowship is sponsored by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University and modeled after an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellowship in Washington, D.C. Its purpose is to place scientists with Ph.D.s in the New Jersey state government to assist with evidence-based policymaking. 

Lin — one of four inaugural Eagleton Fellows — works in the Department of Human Services, which oversees the state’s Medicaid program. Her primary focus is maternal health policy, working on ways to improve maternity care and reduce racial health disparities in birth outcomes. Lin considers herself in good company: Two of her colleagues are fellow Princeton alumni, Bob Popkin ’67 and Greg Woods *10.   

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“It’s been a privilege to be able to do this important work, especially during the coronavirus pandemic,” says Lin. “While my day-to-day now looks very different from my days as a bench scientist, I'm bringing the same collaborative, evidence-driven approach that drove my work in academic science to my work now in health policy.”

In 2019, New Jersey’s first lady, Tammy Murphy, launched NurtureNJ, a statewide campaign seeking to improve maternal and infant health — especially among women and babies of color. Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation to address these issues, many of which focused on the state’s Medicaid program, including coverage for doula care, piloting a new perinatal care payment model with obstetricians, and expanding lactation support benefits.

“Much of my work has been to help implement these pieces of legislation,” says Lin. “The importance of maternity work did not wane during the pandemic because unlike some other areas of medicine, women continue to deliver babies during a pandemic. Likewise, the importance of the health equity work has only been further highlighted by COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color.”

On a personal note, Lin delivered all three of her children in New Jersey and experienced her own challenges as a new mom, including a life-threatening postpartum preeclampsia diagnosis and many breast-feeding issues.

“I feel incredibly privileged to be playing a part in expanding access to evidence-based maternity practices within the state, and in addressing birth equity in a systemic way for fellow moms,” she says. “I had to advocate for myself through every one of my pregnancies, but I had the benefits of my scientific expertise, my current socioeconomic class, and my race/ethnicity.”