Back when ShanghaiTech’s first class of undergraduates visited for Campus Assessment Day back in 2014, there was not much of a campus to visit and ShanghaiTech was more of an idea than reality. Now, four years later but in what seems just a blink of an eye, ShanghaiTech’s senior class has made it from impressionable young freshmen to accomplished and promising graduates. In this first of a two part series, they prepare to bid farewell to their college days and move on in their academic and professional careers, these seniors will always remain a special part of ShanghaiTech as they are the very first class to graduate from this young university.
Zhu Haolong, a Life Science major in the School of Life Science and Technology, who participated in a 3+1 study program at Harvard and will continue his studies in a PhD program at Johns Hopkins University, was attracted to come to ShanghaiTech to be part of a brand-new university. “It was very good opportunity for me to be one of the very first class of the undergrads to experience and also to see a new campus being developed in this century in Shanghai.” Zhu said that the newness of the university, which might be seen as a risk for incoming students, actually was an attraction for him. “I'm a kind of person that wants a type of freedom. In those old university traditional schools, they are all top schools and they offer very good curriculum. They have a long history. It's a good thing. But, on the other hand, it's somehow limited the opportunities they offer to the students. But for ShanghaiTech I feel it's just we have those resources from those traditional universities, which is good, and also we have the freedom to at last even to be really creative and to something that we truly want to try.”
The amount of freedom and opportunities offered to students has been a major benefit for many students of ShanghaiTech’s first graduating class. They took a risk on attending a brand-new school, but also took advantage of being one of only 200 undergraduate students in their year. “I was very impressed how the school could be so supportive of the students,” says Zhu. “As long as the leadership sees there's a potential, there's opportunity, and those students have the passion to do that, they support us.”
For seniors Chen Anqi and Qian LeChen, that opportunity came in the way of getting into labs earlier than their classmates at other universities. Chen, who majored in Materials in the School of Physical Science and Technology, says her dearest memories of ShanghaiTech will always be the effort she put into her research. “I entered the lab in the second year here, so I have more chance to evolve in my research.” Chen’s research in materials led her to become involved in research project on carbon mitigation. “We all know the greenhouse effect, and carbon dioxide contributes the most to greenhouse effect. It's a problem we humans must face in the near future. The technique we use, electrocatalysis, can make carbon dioxide become useful chemicals. The chemicals can be used as building blocks for the chemical industry, and some of them can be used as fuels for vehicles.”
The opportunity to get into a lab in her sophomore year led to her research project supervised by Professor Lin Bolin. “I think the paper I published may be the most wonderful memory for me. My supervisor and I spent almost one and a half year to finish this work.” The work was finally published in Joule in February of this year just when Chen went to visit her family for Spring Festival. “When I told my parents about my research being published, I think they felt such a relief because they know I have worked on this for a long time.”
Chen says she’s motivated to continue her research as a PhD at ShanghaiTech.I think it's useful. It's tied close with true problems in our society.” For Chen, ShanghaiTech is synonymous with opportunity.“I think our school really provide us a lot of chances to make us experience more. I think in the university, to experience more and know what you truly want, is most important thing.” While she is sad to say goodbye to her friends, Chen is looking forward to staying on at ShanghaiTech. “There's a lot of scientific sources here. Just like why I come here for undergraduate study, there will be a lot of source I can get access to. It will be helpful to my study.”
Qian LeChen is another senior student who relished the opportunity to get into the lab early. “I think students here get a lot of chance to get into labs. My experience at Harvard (as a visiting scholar) is that professors told me that the students are competing with each other for the chance to get into labs. But here at ShanghaiTech the professors really welcome students to join the labs and do lab work. And also the leadership at our university thinks highly of the research training experience. So I think it's really the advantage to join ShangahiTech and get such experiences.
Her experience starting the first iGEM team in her sophomore year wasa formative one. “We recruited 31 students at that year. There were students from Computer Science, Physics, also Material Science and we worked together to exchange our ideas. We worked on a super cool project, basically it is a platform to convert sunlight into hydrogen production and we worked on it for one year and then we won the gold medal at Boston. That was a pretty cool and memorable experience for me.”
For Zhu, those and other experiences are only part of what makes ShanghaiTech special. “it's really about the people. I interact with those faculty members, even the administration and I can tell they are very unique group of people, and they have the vision in their mind. I consider the future. So I think I feel for everything it's the same thing. I think ShanghaiTech is just a great opportunity, not only for we students, but also for those young scientists. They offer great opportunity for them to pursue the studies that might not be supported at other places, at least at their career stage.”
This first graduating class has had a unique role in building ShanghaiTech and creating the university’s atmosphere. “We are trying to create a campus environment which is very kind of an international environment,” says Zhu. That international feel is meant to prepare students for their experiences abroad and their future professional life, he says.
In the second part of our two part series, we’ll hear from graduating students on the wise words of advice they’d like to share with incoming freshman.