During the summer of 2018, four UIC students were given the opportunity to conduct summer research at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, USA. High caliber UIC students were encouraged to apply for this summer programme. They were selected based on their performances in the interview session and their summer plan to select the appropriate students to join this programme. The following stories are from two UIC students that went to study at Trinity University over the summer.


UIC students with faculty members from Trinity University and Southwestern University in Texas

 

Hu Mingyue (Year 3, Environmental Science)

During July 2018, I went to Trinity University to attend a summer research programme. Trinity University is a private liberal arts college in San Antonio, Texas. Trinity has an endowment of $1.24 billion, the 85th largest in the country, but it has only around 2500 students, which allows it to provide abundant resources typically associated with much larger colleges and universities.

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Hu Mingyue (left) at Trinity University

I worked in the neuroscience lab in Trinity University. Our topic was the ‘Effect of Cocaine on NMDA Receptor Composition at Synapses in Dopaminergic Neurons’. My daily work was dealing with incubated cells, incubated viruses, and conducting transformation and transfection of plasmids. If I am being honest, I did not have a background in neuroscience, and I have only taken some biology and biochemistry, in addition to microbiology courses at UIC. Therefore, at the beginning I could only follow my partner to see what she was doing and what I could do to help her. Luckily, my study partners and my mentor were really kind and patient people as they explained everything to me repeatedly. Gradually, I became more engaged in the project and participated in the experiments.

The relationship between the people at Trinity is close. We were told not to talk with strangers, but the area we were staying at had many people greeting each other, even if they didn’t know each other. I feel that people greeting each other helps to brings them closer.

An interesting culture shock that is quite normal in the US is that some students simply skip going for a Master's degree and instead move directly towards a PhD. Most of my classmates in my lab are going to apply for their PhD without studying for a Master's degree. It’s time-saving and useful.

Trinity University is almost the same size as UIC plus they have advanced equipment and technology due to having a good endowment. Most science students in Trinity take part in summer research beginning in their first year. Usually one mentor guides four to five students and teaches them how to do experiments as well as how to publish papers. Even though some Trinity students are freshmen, they have already published their own papers and finished their poster presentations. The summer research doesn’t require a certain major background, so students from any major can apply so that they have more choices in their future study. One of my partner’s major is Religion, but he has studied and performed well in the neuroscience lab. He told me that with these experiences he can apply for neuroscience PhD because he has the relative research background.

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My favourite thing here is the people’s opinions about life - life is so easy in their eyes. A lot of students have double majors and they never seem to be concerned about not being able to graduate with two majors. In fact, some of them have almost completed one of their majors within one year.

Our lab had a weekly lab lunch where our mentor took us to some good restaurants, which made me feel more at home. We also had a movie night in one of my partner’s apartment where we turned off the lights and watched a movie together, with snacks and their pet cat.

Most of our mentors are affable and approachable. They took us to go camping, horse-riding, as well as inviting us to their houses for barbecues and games. One of our mentors has three dogs in his house; I found the dogs to be extremely cute and gentle.

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To conclude, this experience has meant a lot for me. Students in the US have a totally different style and attitude towards life, and it’s good to know these differences. This programme provided me a chance to know American students’ daily life and study experience. I have benefited a lot from this experience, as not only has my language skills improved, but also I have broadened my horizons. I now have a more explicit cognition about what I want in my future. I sincerely appreciate the great opportunity that UIC has provided me with so that I got to know more about the world.

 

Xiao Wanqi (Year 2, Environmental Science)

After one month studying with Trinity University students at UIC, I went to Trinity University to attend a scientific research programme during the summer of 2018.

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Xiao Wanqi (left) at Trinity University

In campus, I worked in the microbiology lab in the Biology Department. My project was titled ‘Environmental, Genetic, and Physiological Studies of Bacillus Isolates Exhibiting Self-Affine Colony Morphologies’. I worked on this project with my partner Jocelyn Suarez. The lab recovered several isolates from environmental samples that exhibit self-affine branching behavior and chiral filamentous swirling patterns. The aim of our project was to figure out the cellular mechanisms underlying pattern formation.

Studying at Trinity University was exciting and I felt encouraged. The students at Trinity University are very hard-working and you can see some people still studying in the library during the vacation. I even saw some students sleeping on the couches in the CSI building after staying up all night to conduct research in the lab. Advisors and students like to discuss questions freely rather than asking for answers directly, which is quite similar to UIC. In UIC, we usually share our ideas and thoughts with our instructors and other classmates. Sometimes, we would focus on one particular problem and discuss it.


Wanqi and others outside the Main Building at the University of Texas in Austin

A couple days after arriving in the USA, it was the country’s Independence Day. We went to watch the parade. Lots of families drove out early and waited beside the street to celebrate this day. The atmosphere was one of pride, strength and unity. Many people wore clothing that displayed the Star Spangled Banner, and they were waving flags to welcome the parade’s motorcade. We also visited the Texas History Museum in Austin with the Lead Professor of Chinese and the Director of the East Program of the Center for International Engagement at Trinity University, Prof Stephen Field, and Associate Professor of Chinese at Southwestern University, Dr Carl Robertson. By listening to the instruction and explanation from Prof Field and Dr Robertson, I got a deeper understanding of Texas’ culture and history, such as the ‘wild west’.

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It was interesting to camp in Bamberger Ranch conservation area, which was my first time camping in the wild. Trinity University Professor and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr David Ribble, took us to visit a scientist that devotes his time to wildlife protection on the reserve. We saw many special kinds of wildlife with our own eyes, and visited the dinosaur track site as well as the aboriginal site. At the same time, we got to understand how Americans preserve the reserved area and conduct scientific research therein.

After staying a month in the USA, my oral English and experimental skills have improved. The food in the USA is attractive, and I particularly liked Cinnamon Rolls and Tacos. Tex-Mex food is very creative and delicious, as it combines the ingredients and the way of cooking of both Texas and Mexico.

During this summer programme, I made lots of new friends, and learnt much new stuff, both in cultural aspects and in academic areas. My friends, my lab partners, and my advisor, and other professors in the Biology Department at Trinity University helped me a lot when I was on campus. I would like to thank all of them.

Read more: Ecology and Bio conservation in China

Editor: Samuel Burgess (MPRO)
Photographs provided by students
(with special thanks to the ELC)