After protests, UC San Diego agrees not to fire Chinese postdoc who raised concerns

The case sparked a wave of activism from the scholar’s peers while her visa was put in jeopardy.

Protesters gather in support of Li Jiang at the University of California, San Diego.

The University of California, San Diego has reached a settlement with Li Jiang, a postdoctoral scholar from China who said her contract was left to expire after she raised concerns about data methodology in her lab, potentially forcing her to return to China as she neared the end of pregnancy. 

The case sparked a wave of activism from her peers that culminated in an agreement reached last Friday. The settlement — negotiated by Jiang, UC San Diego, and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) — will allow Jiang to stay in the country, continue working at UC San Diego in a different lab under a new supervisor, who is the chair of her department, and keep her health benefits. 

In an email to NBC News, Jiang said that although she was grateful for the settlement and the support of her colleagues, her experience over the last few months has been “terrifying.” 

“I feared many things — losing my job, losing my visa and having to leave the country, and also for my career in general,” she said. “And as soon as I knew I was pregnant, I feared for my child and our future. I tried to work out how I would travel back to China alone, with no income and no health coverage, and have a baby.” 

Jiang said her case exemplifies the “leaky pipeline” of women in academia, pointing to research from the American Academy of Political and Social Science that shows that marriage and childbirth are some of the most significant barriers keeping graduate students who are women from achieving the highest levels of success in science-related fields. 

A spokesperson for UC San Diego said the university does not discuss individual personnel cases. In a statement to Inside Higher Ed this month, UC San Diego said that the “health, well-being and safety of our campus community members is our top priority” and that allegations of harassment are taken very seriously. 

Jiang, who has worked at UC San Diego for more than four years and whose contract has been renewed multiple times, said in January that she had questioned the integrity of some data and research methodology in a lab in the pathology department, after which she said her supervisor’s behavior toward her changed significantly. 

Jiang said her supervisor told her shortly after she voiced those concerns that her research appointment would not be extended again, but she could extend it for a few months if she produced “certain data on a short timeline.”