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The Graduation Story – Biology mentor guides undergraduates to excellence

DATE:2020-05-19

As our students prepare to move onto new pastures as they finish their graduation projects, one associate professor is experiencing a bittersweet experience. Four members of his research group will depart as outstanding representatives of the Class of 2020 to world-renowned universities around the world.

Associate Professor Shengjian JI (Biology) has had three of his undergraduate researchers selected as Top Ten Graduates for the Department of Biology. The exhaustion of writing a scientific paper was swept from his body, and the joy of his team’s excellence filled his body.

Shengjian JI has worked at both the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Cornell University School of Medicine. These prestigious institutions prepared him well for when he arrived at SUSTech. He truly believes that SUSTech will become a world-class research university, rooted in China, and he wanted to be a part of that.

He jumped on board with the Undergraduate Research Program, with many students choosing to join his research group because of experience in a broad range of scientific issues. Shengjian JI has set high standards for students who want to join his laboratory. He runs a highly inclusive laboratory, with everyone meeting once a week to discuss the progress of experiments, try and solve solutions to bottlenecks and determine goals for the future.

While many of his students describe him as “strict,” it is intended to instill good habits in his young charges. Shengjian JI said, “I hope that they can develop good scientific research habits. This is a basic skill behind scientific research that will benefit them throughout their scientific careers.”

Even if he is strict, he will encourage independent thinking with students proposing their topics. His efforts in mentoring students meant that the students took valuable life lessons in terms of balancing their academic pursuits and the rest of their lives. Shengjian JI encouraged his charges to make sure they had time to relax, and how to deal with frustration during times of high intensity.

Shengjian JI has created an ecosystem of accessibility within his laboratory, with everyone willing to provide help to anyone that needs help. Senior students, postgraduate students, and Shengjian JI all pitch in to support younger researchers with their questions so they can get up to speed faster. It provides a more collegiate and friendly atmosphere in the laboratory, with everyone helping each other. Communication between all members of the laboratory was always friendly and warm, providing outlets for stress release and opportunities to discuss each other’s projects. This approach extended to many other topics outside scientific life, resulting in life-long friendships.

The four students of the Class of 2020 reflected on their time in Shengjian JI’s laboratory. Yujia ZHANG said that he was brought up to speed by two senior students. They patiently taught him from the most basic steps of slicing frozen sections. They shared their experimental experience with him, and through consistent practice, he was able to master the skill eventually. Chunxuan JIANG and Yuwei SHI had similar experiences, commenting that, “when we first entered the laboratory, we didn’t understand anything and had no knowledge base to fall back on. The senior students would take us under their wings and guide us through experimental techniques, so we would get better over time.”

Following their four years of education at SUSTech, our four students have blossomed into future leaders with enormous potential. They are heading into destinations, both known and unknown, to pursue their academic dreams.

Yujing YUAN received several offers to complete his Ph.D. from top universities but opted to hop the border to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). He has dreamed of becoming a field biologist and completed an internship with the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute in Spain. At HKUST, he will study coral reef ecosystems to develop potential medical treatments.

Yuwei SHI received a lot of support in writing her application. She decided to also head south to the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) to take a direct offer to complete her Ph.D.

Yujia ZHANG had completed several European exchange programs, and his application showed his scientific research ability. The offer he ultimately accepted was from Aarhus University in Denmark. He had previously studied there under Torben Heick Jensen, a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. It provided Yujia with the opportunity to continue studying under the best person for him.

Chunxuan JIANG is in the United Kingdom, studying for a joint master’s degree with King’s College London. The agreement between SUSTech and King’s College of London is such that a student can complete three years of education at SUSTech within the Department of Biology. The students then head to London for a year to complete the master’s component and the graduation dissertation. She noted that she had a good GPA and IELTS score, so she qualified for the program.

As all four went their separate ways, they thanked Associate Professor Shengjian JI and SUSTech for their support throughout this stage of their educational journies.

Tips from the four students:

Yujing YUAN: The most important thing is to find your own world and stick to the field that you love. During your four years at university, you must be responsible for a full and active life on campus.

Chunxuan JIANG: Understand that there will be failures, but that will help you grow. Be prepared to make changes and aim to satisfy yourself to learn by what happens in life. Learn how to understand yourself, rather than following others.

Yuwei SHI: Finding a good path for you is more important than the path itself.

Yujia ZHANG: Take care of all your classwork, and figure out what you are interested in. Learn what opportunities to seize and pay attention to what your true love is.