Chengting Zhang is a PhD student in the laboratory of Professor Steffen Scholpp at the Living Systems Institute, UK. Originally from China, Chengting came to the UK in 2018 after being awarded joint funding from the University of Exeter and the China Scholarship Council (CSC) to carry out her PhD project investigating the role of Wnt protein transport during zebrafish development.
We spoke to Chengting about what it was like to move from her home country in China to start a PhD abroad and to hear her advice for other early-career researchers thinking of making the same move.
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When did you decide to do a PhD?
When I was a graduate student, I made the decision to pursue a PhD. Since graduate education in China typically lasts three years and I had little direct experience with experiments throughout my undergraduate studies, I became really interested in research when I was able to produce some experimental results. Naturally, this was partly a result of my master’s supervisor’s encouragement, who suggested that I try to apply for CSC in order to study overseas for my doctoral degree.
How did you decide where to go for your project?
After speaking with my master’s supervisor, I also believed that pursuing a PhD while studying overseas would be a particularly positive experience. After having this notion, I talked about it and listened to what my family and friends had to say. The reaction I received was quite encouraging, so I ultimately opted to pursue my PhD abroad. Regarding how I came across the current project, it’s because Steffen, my PhD supervisor, is also interested in recruiting CSC students, and I choose this topic since I believe I can successfully tackle it.
What was the process of applying for your scholarship?
I read several pieces of advice on the Xiaomuchong app before deciding to apply to CSC and pursue my PhD abroad. The first step was to begin IELTS preparation because passing the English language exam is a prerequisite for travelling abroad. When I received the language results, I quickly wrote an email to the tutor I was interested in. At the same time, I also gathered other experience articles on the Internet. Fortunately, Steffen responded to my emails in a very positive manner and was very helpful to me throughout the application process. For example, he corrected the PowerPoint I used for my interview and provided me with the files I needed for my application. The procedure is generally as follows: passing a language test – reaching out to potential tutors – college interview – receiving an offer – CSC application.
What was it like moving to a new country?
When I first received the scholarship, I was still anxious about it because I would be travelling to a nation with a totally different culture to do my PhD. When I initially came to the UK, I found it difficult to control my tears and thought I would be all alone. Fortunately, during the adjustment time, my PhD supervisor was really kind and my colleagues also looked out for me, so I gradually improved. The most important thing is that you don’t have to think about other things as much while you are seriously engaged in study. Naturally, none of this would be possible without the help of my family and friends.
With reaching the end of my PhD, I’ve developed considerably and become a more mature person.
What is your PhD project?
My PhD research uses zebrafish as a model to examine the mechanism of Wnt signalling. The main focus of the research is on the transmission of Wnt/PCP signalling Wnt5b from generating cells to receiving cells, the interaction of the receptor Ror2 and ligand Wnt5b, and the impact of Wnt/PCP on zebrafish growth and development.
我的博士课题：以斑马鱼为模型，研究Wnt信号的传导机制。最主要的研究Wnt/PCP signalling Wnt5b 是如何从producing cells 传导到receiving cells的，以及配体Wnt5b 和受体Ror2的关系，以及Wnt/PCP 对斑马鱼生长发育的影响
How has your PhD experience been?
Because I had a fantastic and great supervisor, a terrific research environment, and solid research findings overall, I had an excellent PhD experience. I also gained a lot of knowledge. Along with learning, I also developed my mental faculties and social abilities.
What advice would you give to other early-career scientists planning to do research abroad?
My recommendation is to give it your best because you won’t regret it. Research still largely revolves around the research platform. If you choose a foreign university, all things are excellent, but if you’re frightened to travel overseas, my advice is to still be daring and give it a shot because it’s also regarded as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What are your plans for the future?
Since there is a solid platform for biological research at my master’s university, my current aim is to go back to my previous institution after I return to China, where I will continue to conduct research in the future.