Princeton graduate student Cassidy Yang dies in Ohio

Dec. 7, 2020 8:27 p.m.

Princeton University doctoral student Cassidy Yang died this past weekend in Ohio as a result of a car accident. She was 26.

Cassidy Yang

Cassidy Yang

Yang was a fifth-year graduate student in quantitative and computational biology (QCB) who anticipated completing her Ph.D. in May 2021. She was an active member of the Princeton community, including working for two years as the outreach coordinator for the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWiSE) group; helping with the Undergraduate Women in Physics program; serving as a Princeton Access, Diversity, and Inclusion Outreach Ambassador; answering public questions about COVID-19 as a volunteer scientist for the National Science Policy Network; and helping underrepresented K-12 students with their remote schooling, as a volunteer tutor with the newly created Princeton Online Tutoring Network.

"Cassidy was a fantastic student,” said her adviser Joshua Shaevitz, professor of physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics as well as director of the QCB graduate program. “She was tenacious at attacking problems and didn't back down when things in the lab got difficult.”

He added: “She was also an amazing friend and mentor to many in our group. In every research group there is usually one person who seems to selflessly look out for everyone else, and for us that was Cassidy. She was also active in mentoring and outreach projects both on campus and nationally. The world has lost a star at too young an age."

Her research investigated how the collective behavior of cells can bring about large scale order within the system. In particular, she was interested in the physics of active systems out of equilibrium that produce and maintain ordered structures.

She focused on Myxococcus xanthus, a social soil bacteria, which has the ability to collectively self-organize into biofilm structures and fruiting bodies. Just as the pandemic began shutting down research travel in early March, she gave a virtual talk on the topic at the American Physical Society’s meeting in Denver.

Before coming to Princeton, Yang graduated from Caltech in 2016 with a double major in physics and business economics and management, and from Naperville Central High School in 2012.

The University has extended its condolences to her family and friends. Counseling and Psychological Services held a support space for Cassidy’s friends and close contacts. A Zoom memorial service will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 4 p.m., for members of the Princeton University community who wish to meet together virtually to remember her. This will be a time to share remembrances and find support among others who have been touched by her life.

Students who would like to speak with counselors are encouraged to contact Counseling and Psychological Services via the myUHS portal or 609-258-3141. Graduate students are also welcome to reach out to the staff in the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School for advising resources and support; you may reach out to assistant deans Lily Secora or Christine Murphy as well as other members of the staff.  Undergraduate students are encouraged to reach out to a member of your residential college staff for advising and support. Students and other members of the University community may also contact the chaplains in the Office of Religious Life for counseling and support.