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From China to the UK – an interview with Chengting Zhang

Posted by , on 28 July 2022

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.

We invite you to share your own stories on the Node. To hear more about how we support early-career researchers take a look at our website and we encourage China-based audiences to follow The Company of Biologists WeChat channel!

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.

最开始决定读博,是在研究生时期。因为国内的研究生一般三年制,本科也没怎么实质性接触过实验,所以当在研究生时期能做出一些实验性成果时,让自己对研究产生了极大的兴趣。当然这也少不了我硕士导师的鼓励,并建议说读博可以试试申请CSC 出国读博,那也是第一次我接触到CSC

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.


与此同时,也在网上收集各种经验贴,在拿到语言结果的时候,立马给自己感兴趣的导师发了邮件。幸好Steffen回复的邮件很积极,在我申请过程中帮助了我很多,比如帮我批改面试ppt, 非常积极即使的提供申请所需要的资料。总的来说需要的一个过程是:语言成绩—联系意向导师—学院面试—拿到offer—申请CSC

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.

现目前的计划是回国后回硕士母校, 因为那里有很好的生物研究平台,所以自己以后还是会继续投身科研中

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Categories: Careers, Interview, Lab Life, Research

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