When the undergraduate Class of 2019 crosses the stage to receive their diplomas this month, they represent the best ShanghaiTech has to offer. The paths they took converged for four years on campus together, and now they prepare to head off in different directions.
School of Life Science and Technology graduating senior Zhang Yuxi’s college experience didn’t start out so well. She felt disappointed when she first arrived in 2016. “The campus was really different because when I come to this university, it was very new and it didn’t look beautiful like it does now.” she said.
Aside from the campus surroundings, Zhang herself felt a bit rough around the edges and unprepared for the pressure of college life. “During my first year, I didn’t even know what a GPA is, so I didn’t work hard and my GPA was very low,” she remembered. “When the school told me what my GPA was, then I know, oh there is a thing called GPA, so then I had to work very hard after my first year to make up for it.” Through her persistent hard work, Zhang’s GPA rose to a 4.0 last semester.
Zhang also wasn’t sure at first about what she wanted to study. “Before I came to ShanghaiTech and even in my first year, I really liked chemistry and wanted to change my major. After working in the lab, I realized biology is really beautiful and so I didn’t change my major. I think the thing that makes me most proud during my four years here is that I found what I really like.”
The opportunities Zhang got as a student at ShanghaiTech helped her along the way. In the summer before her senior year, Zhang participated in a summer study abroad session at UC Berkeley. “I think this kind of exchange opportunity is quite rare in other universities,” she said. She remembers that summer working in John Kuriyan’s lab as one of the more challenging experiences in her college career. She was combining classes, working in the lab and applying to 18 graduate schools all at the same time.
Self-motivation has taken Zhang far and it is what she remains proudest of. After doing a small research project with a graduate student in Professor Xu Fei’s lab to solve the structure of a membrane protein, Zhang was not satisfied. She was curious about whether there was another way to stabilize the protein but the graduate students advised her to focus on what they were doing and not get distracted. Undeterred, Zhang asked Professor Xu if her idea was feasible. “Professor Xu told me to do experiments on my own to see whether my idea would work or not. So I did the experiments on my own. No one helped me, because it was my own project. I had a lot of troubles but my results showed me that the idea is feasible.” While Zhang’s knowledge level didn’t allow her to do many experiments to further her research, last year she saw a paper was published that affirmed her hypothesis and findings. “I was quite excited by that,” she remembers.
Zhang’s enthusiasm and curiousity will carry her far. After being accepted into programs at Yale, Duke and four other institutions, she made the decision to start a tri-institutional PhD program in chemical biology at Rockefeller, Weill Cornell and Memorial Sloan Kettering Center in the fall.