Exploring the Importance of Human Research

Michigan Minds Special Series: Women in STEM

In this episode of Michigan Minds, Julie Lumeng, assistant vice president for clinical and human subjects research and executive director of the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research, explores the importance of human-research activity and the studies she has conducted examining the development of eating behavior in children. Lumeng also shares advice to women and girls embarking on their own journeys into science fields.

“U-M is a top public research institution with expenditures of $1.6 billion a year, and of that about 40% of expenditures involve human subjects research. So it’s a big piece of the research being done,” she says.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, human subjects research has been important as it is a problem that needs to be solved with medical science, Lumeng explains, citing the quick ramp-up of vaccine trials around the world as an example.

“Academic medical centers are, along with partnerships with industry, we are going to have to be the leaders in this space in terms of how that research gets ramped up, how human participants are invited to participate in that research. And so this is a really critical moment for health research and research with human subjects, around the world and at the University of Michigan,” she says.

Lumeng finds her roles at U-M to be rewarding in a variety of ways. She was an undergraduate student at U-M and says it really impacted her and was a main contributor to the trajectory she took in her life.

“The only way I was able to come here was the fact that it was a public university. So I have a great deal of respect and I place a lot of value on what underlies the mission of a public university. And so I feel like this is my opportunity to give back to what the University of Michigan gave to me,” she says, adding that when she was accepted to the U-M Medical School, she was “shocked and honored.”

She says that another part of her work that is of significant importance to her is that a lot of research in human participants used to focus on white men, but in recent years there has been a stronger emphasis on ensuring that there is adequate research being focused on women, children, and people of diverse races and ethnicities, as well as populations with disabilities.

“I have great commitment to ensuring that we conduct research that speaks to all populations and is inclusive of all populations. And as a woman, I have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for making sure the research is inclusive of women and all of the unique issues that women might face in their lives.”

“As a pediatrician, I did subspecialty training in developmental and behavioral pediatrics, which actually focuses on children who might have learning disabilities or autism,” Lumeng says.

Some of Lumeng’s research, as a trained pediatrician, focuses on research examining the development of eating behavior in children. When she completed her clinical training, the childhood obesity epidemic was top-of-mind for much of the nation, and she became intrigued by the idea of determining how much eating behavior was contributing to childhood obesity.

“[One] piece of this is that a lot of the task of feeding infants, just by definition, it’s something women do. And so who is most expert in the nuances of infant behavior during feeding? It’s women,” she says, adding that women had not been a large part of the research field in pediatrics until recently.

Lumeng shares that she is proud to contribute to research that is complex and critical to society’s well-being.

“I’ve been really passionate about elevating that research at the University of Michigan and nationally, because it is research mostly done by women. And by elevating the research topic, I think you also elevate women and the importance of their work. So I think that’s probably what I’m most proud of and what I think is most important for people who are considering pursuing a career in this space to remember.”

For those entering STEM fields interested in a particular topic, Lumeng recommends reflecting on where it fits in the context of what society places value on, and then pursue what you are passionate about.


This episode of Michigan Minds is a part of a special series focused on women in STEM as we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11. Listen to more episodes from this series