Xin Li is an assistant professor of cell and developmental biology and was recently named a Lincoln Excellence for Assistant Professors (LEAP) Scholar.

What sparked your interest in biology? Was there someone or some event that had a pivotal impact on you in pursuing science? Such as a teacher, friend, parent? 
When I was young, my father, a physics teacher, taught me to look for rules underling the various natural phenomena. I then became very interested in biology starting in the middle school, wondering about how
life begins and evolves, and how our brains form and function.

What brought you to UIUC? What about the School of MCB and the U of I makes this a great place to do research and teaching?
During my interview here, I found the department, school, and university to be the perfect place to set up my lab and do research and teaching, because of the highly supportive and collaborative environment, world-class cross-disciplinary research programs and cutting-edge facilities. Especially during my research seminar and chalk talk (research plan presentation) at the interview, I received a lot of inspirational questions and comments from faculty members and trainees which made me really excited about joining this community.

What do you find especially exciting about the work you and your group are doing now and have planned for the next couple years?
I feel it is especially exciting that we can combine our traditional Drosophila genetics with the revolutionary single-cell omics approaches to investigate the fundamental questions of neural development: how neural stem cells keep time to sequentially generate different neural types, and how these neural types connect with each other to form a complex neural structure.

In the next couple of years, we will continue to use the integrated approaches to map the transcriptional and epigenetic networks that temporally pattern neural stem cells to generate neural diversity.

What do you find fulfilling outside of the lab?
Outside of the lab, I found it fulfilling to “grow up” again together with my kids exploring the natural world and the possibilities.