School of Science SURF: Summer Ends, But The Story Goes on

08 May 2024

Last week, the annual "Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship" (SURF) was available for application. Many students who are considering applying for SURF for the first time (especially freshmen) are filled with questions: What are the benefits of SURF for university students? Can students apply across disciplines if they are from different majors? Do lower-grade students have opportunities? What are the features of SURF in the School of Science?

With these questions in mind, we interviewed two researchers from the School of Science, Dr. Peng Zhao and Dr. Linxi Yuan, as well as students they have guided. These two researchers have extensive experience in guiding SURF projects, and they have research topics in SURF available for students this year. They shared real stories that have occurred in the past.

This year the School of Science have 50 SURFs, including 19 in the Department of Biological Science, 10 in the Department of Chemistry, 21 in the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences, supervised by 37 researchers. They provide 181 seats for students to apply.

From SURF to Academic Forum and Competition for University Students

In general, as everyone knows, SURF usually ends with a poster exhibition and selection and showcase of projects. However, SURF in our School of Science is far more than just a summer poster.

Dr. Zhao said:

Due to the large number of participants and limited awards, as well as the relatively narrow evaluation perspective, even outstanding work has limited chances of winning in the SURF poster selection. I encourage students to participate in forums and competitions outside of SURF with their SURF results and experiences to add value to SURF. This not only provides more opportunities for awards but also allows for evaluation from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, it enables students to reflect on and improve their research from different angles.

Senior students Qing Fan and Mingjie Chen majoring in bioinformatics and sophomore Ziqi Zhao majoring in environmental science guided by Dr. Zhao participated in the SRLS (Student Research-oriented Learning Summit) with the results of their SURF projects. They were awarded the second prize and the Most Popular Award.

Qing Fan:

What impressed me most at the research-oriented learning forum was the discussion on the challenges faced in the future use of research results. Being able to hear brilliant speeches from students in different fields on-site also provided me with many new ideas for my future personal development and career planning.

Mingjie Chen:

I introduced how to improve learning efficiency using Bloom's Taxonomy at the summit. It was a fulfilling day for me, and I also heard many excellent speeches from fellow students.

Building on what they learned at the summit, they further refined the results achieved in the SURF project and participated in the "Tianfu Cup National University Students Energy Finance Innovation Challenge Competition” the following year, where they won the third prize.

Qing Fan:

In this competition, through group cooperation, I continuously absorbed improvements within the team, which also greatly enhanced my skills in writing. This has also significantly improved my ability to write my future thesis. I am very grateful for the series of challenges that this project has brought me, and I am also delighted to have met a group of excellent partners for collaborative learning. They have enabled me to constantly improve and enrich myself throughout this process, adding vibrant colors to my four years of university life.

From SURF to Invention Patent and Academic Paper

Many students think that SURF is just for making their resumes stand out, but the output of SURF in the School of Science is far more than just such a little bit for resumes.

Dr. Linxi Yuan, said:

"In 2021, I guided SURF for the first time. At that time, I designed a complete two-month research plan, which was about using the roots of germinating corn as indicators of toxicological changes in the interaction between the trace element selenium and the heavy metal element cadmium. This project attracted five students: Zejun Wu and Shuheng Wang from the Department of Health and Environmental Science, Junyang Zhang from the Department of Chemistry, and Ruoying Zheng and Jiayi Guo majoring in Bioinformatics. After two months of intensive experiments and analysis, we successfully achieved all the expected objectives and applied for a patent (CN202111299459.2)."

"In 2022, it was during the tense period of the pandemic when both students and teachers were unable to return to campus, and offline experimental SURF projects could not be carried out. Therefore, I designed a project on literature review and synthesis writing about the role of trace elements selenium and zinc in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. This project attracted six students: Minyi Gao, Xiao Xu, and Yiwen Gao from the Department of Health and Environmental Science, Jiayuan Li and Ruochen Zhang from the Department of Chemistry, and Jingyi Li from the Department of Biology. Eventually, we published two academic papers: "Narrative Review on the Roles of Selenium Against COVID-19" and "Research Progress on the Role of Trace Element Zinc in Fight Against Corona Virus Disease 2019”.

Zejun Wu: (Majoring in Environmental Science, Class of 2018)

SURF is a great opportunity to experience and participate in a small but complete research project, from setting up the plan to actual implementation to encountering problems and trying repeatedly, to analyzing the results, whether good or bad.

SURF not only serves as a valuable research experience that can be included in your CV, enhancing your knowledge and skills, but more importantly, it provides unforgettable and guiding experiences. For instance, you will realize that there is often a significant deviation between expectations and reality in research, and dealing with messy data can be daunting. However, the encouragement and patient guidance from teachers will always lead you to see the light of hope time and time again. Furthermore, you will discover that while research is independent, it also greatly relies on teamwork and cannot be done alone. Although the experimental process may be challenging, with the help and companionship of many classmates, it will also become a memorable and joyful experience! Dare to give it a try, and everyone will find the unique charm of SURF for themselves!

Minyi Gao: (Majoring in Environmental Science, Class of 2019)

Participating in the SURF project has deepened my understanding that it is a valuable experience in my academic career. From the initial confusion and perplexity to the eventual publication of academic papers, this process is not only a crucial step forward in my academic journey but also has provided me with indescribable growth and experiences through teamwork.

In the SURF project, teamwork plays a crucial role starting from the literature collection. Each team member demonstrates unique strengths and highlights, allowing us to deeply understand the power of diverse thinking. For example, Xu Xiao's ability to integrate overall and Gao Yiwen's attention to detail enables the project to stay on the right track consistently. From reading literature to producing the final paper, every outstanding idea gradually forms through the collision of everyone's thoughts. Such collaboration not only teaches me to listen, collaborate, and lead but also helps me overcome shortcomings in teamwork, while also discovering the joy of teamwork.

At the same time, collaboration with our supervisor has also had a profound impact on us. Our supervisor Dr Yuan's professional support and careful guidance have enabled us to continuously progress in our research, experiencing the joy of scientific research from exploration to understanding. The obstacles we once faced have turned into a sense of achievement and confidence after overcoming them. This experience has made us more confident in our abilities and potential.

Xiao Xu: (Majoring in Environmental Science, Class of 2019)

During my participation in the SURF project, I deeply experienced the precision and challenges of scientific research as a team member. Due to the limitations imposed by the Covid, we were unable to conduct experiments, but this situation also forced us to seek alternative research methods. Under the guidance of our supervisor Yuan Linxi, we chose the form of literature review, focusing on the role of trace element selenium in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Through this project, I learned how to efficiently collect and analyze scientific literature, how to extract core data from a large amount of information, and how to integrate this information into structured knowledge. In our group, we complemented each other's knowledge and skills, which made me deeply appreciate the power of teamwork.

Participating in SURF and completing the paper were filled with challenges. Overcoming each difficulty reinforces my conviction in choosing the path of scientific research. This experience is not just a line on my resume, but also a valuable asset in my academic career, laying a solid foundation for my future research work.

Jiayuan Li: (Majoring in Applied Chemistry, Class of 2019)

I believe the SURF project holds great significance for me. During the pandemic, the internet was flooded with various reports about COVID-19, and I never imagined we would have the opportunity to participate in research related to COVID-19. Throughout this experience, we read hundreds of papers and discovered that many researchers are studying what can prevent and alleviate COVID-19. Everyone is striving to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. At that moment, you realize that we can also contribute to public health, and we can publish academic papers on COVID-19. Although the pandemic is now in the past tense, after the SURF project, we indeed have a better understanding of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the SURF project also marked a significant turning point for me. Because of my participation in this SURF project, I found that my interests had changed, which led me to consider doing my graduation project in the Department of Environmental Science. Both my supervisor Yuan and my laboratory classmates have given me a lot of encouragement and assistance, solidifying my determination to pursue a cross-disciplinary graduation project. With everyone's support, I completed my cross-disciplinary graduation project and clarified the direction I want to strive for in the future.

Finally, I am very grateful to all the partners I met in the SURF project and to my supervisor Dr Yuan, who provided us with the greatest assistance. My supervisor Dr. Yuan always has the power to "turn decay into magic", being able to pinpoint our problems and provide solutions directly. Our team members are also very reliable. From the extensive literature review at the beginning to the publication of the final paper, our communication was smooth, and we were quite efficient. So I am honored and grateful to be involved in the SURF project. It is not only a highlight on my resume but also a crucial step in my life experience.

Jingyi Li: (Majoring in Biological sciences, Class of 2019)

In 2022, I had the privilege to participate in the SURF project guided by Dr. Yuan. Under Dr. Yuan's guidance, my two friends, Jiayuan and Ruochen, and I co-authored an academic paper. It was the first academic article I had published, so I am very grateful to my supervisor Dr. Yuan for providing me with the opportunity to participate in the SURF project. Not only that, but I also learned a lot from it.

That SURF project not only taught me how to write academic papers but also made me aware of the details that I usually overlook. I found that communication and reflection with others are crucial during the writing and publishing process. Interacting with others helps us to examine and revise our research ideas and paper content. Feedback and suggestions obtained through communication with mentors and classmates can improve our research level and the quality of our papers. Although writing a paper is a tedious and challenging task, through continuous effort and practice, we can master some skills and experiences that cannot be learned from books. These will have a long-lasting and far-reaching impact on our future development.

Ruochen Zhang: (Majoring in Applied Chemistry, Class of 2019)

At that time, during the pandemic, this SURF gave me a valuable opportunity to work with everyone and research timely topics. Through the study of pandemic-related issues, I can discern information related to the epidemic from a more scientific and dialectical perspective, without being engulfed by anxiety. In 2022, comprehensive reviews on COVID-19 were still relatively scarce in China, and I am honored that our supervisor Dr. Yuan gave me an opportunity to fill this gap.

From SURF to Postgraduate Program Application and Getting A Job

Qing Fan:

During my participation in SURF, I came to understand potential breakthroughs for improving current agricultural environmental issues and the numerous challenges faced in their future promotion. I believe these are all potential opportunities on the path of future career development.

Mingjie Chen:

I believe that as long as everyone is willing to try and believe, they can also excel in SURF, which can be an extraordinary and valuable experience when applying for graduate school and doctoral programs!

Alumnus Longsheng Liu , in the Class of 2018 with a major in public health, participated in a SURF project guided by Dr. Zhao in 2021.

He recalled:

I still remember that summer, sitting on the ES terrace from 2:00 PM until 10:00 PM, just to clarify the circuit logic for the project design. SURF effectively integrates "campus" practice with "real-world" practice, connecting the trajectory of learning and life—not just for the CV's sake, but for the completeness of “being a young adult”. In the SURF project, the supervisor provided our team with great freedom and professional support. To draw a metaphor, it's like a newborn child taking their first steps. In the exploration of the holiday project, we grew from stumbling and confusion to eventually learning to run.

Xiao Xu: (Majoring in Environmental Science, Class of 2019)

Participating in the SURF project is an opportunity for deep self-exploration. Simply attending classes, most college students may feel uncertain about their career plans. Through such research experiences, we can not only discover our academic interests but also prepare for choosing the right graduate programs. This is not only beneficial for academic pursuits but also crucial for future career development.

Zejun Wu: (Majoring in Environmental Science, Class of 2018)

Objectively, my achievements in SURF greatly supported my path to applying for postgraduate and doctoral studies. Subjectively, SURF was the starting point for me to embark on the academic research path, helping me find the ideal plan for my career development. I still remember that summer, the confusion and perplexity during the experiments, with attempts, improvements, and discussions, but also the help from teachers and peers that led to success, bringing immense joy and a sense of accomplishment. Since then, I have fallen in love with the process of academic exploration, from the plant physiology experiments of SURF to the plant physiology models I am currently studying. I think I will continue to walk on this path.

Dr. Zhao:

Undergraduate students are still young and inexperienced when applying for postgraduate studies or employment, with limited experiences and few highlights on resumes. SURF can add value to their resumes. I suggest that students at XJTLU plan for their next three summers starting from their freshman year, dedicating one summer to fully engage in SURF. Those who have already participated in SURF can consider joining other forms of projects within the university or external projects to gain diverse perspectives on research and work, enriching their resumes.

Can Students From A Different Major Apply?

As a researcher in the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences at the School of Science, Dr. Zhao has guided students from various majors in the past years. Some of them are from within the School of Science, majoring in Environmental Science, Bioinformatics, and Public Health. Others come from different departments such as the Wisdom Lake Academy of Pharmacy, majoring in Biostatistics, the School of Mathematics and Physics, majoring in Applied Mathematics, and the Design School, majoring in Industrial Design.

Qing Fan :

For me personally, I am eager to explore different fields, and interdisciplinary abilities have always been something I aspire to. This allows me to understand a broader platform and discover more possibilities for myself. As a team leader, I need to contact the driver in advance (for field observation) to confirm the pick-up location, ensuring everyone's safety during the journey, and preparing motion sickness medication and emergency contact lists for team members just in case. This experience provided me with a valuable opportunity to exercise my organizational skills and arrange group travel effectively.

Mingjie Chen :

Although I major in bioinformatics and SURF focuses on environmental science, my responsibility was in the aspect of data processing and presenting analytical results. Participating in Dr. Zhao's research project was quite rewarding as it had both equipment support and technical guidance from relevant professionals, and this time, we also collaborated across different disciplines. It was a unique experience and a cross-disciplinary collaboration. I believe that in research, as long as there is interest, one should boldly try different fields.

Jingyi Chen :

I highly recommend applying for SURF even if you major in a different subject because it allows you to quickly understand what the field is about and how the knowledge you've acquired can be applied. For example, my initial reason for applying to SURF was to utilize the R language for data analysis. I wanted to apply the R knowledge I had learned to real-world situations and found the topic to be intriguing and curious. Although I didn't have much knowledge about environmental science at the beginning of the project, Dr. Zhao and the doctoral student Hanyue were very proactive in explaining and providing relevant materials for us to understand the principles behind the machines and models we used, so I never felt lost. During the project, I also had the opportunity to experience field observations, which expanded my knowledge in environmental science. The team members got along well, and they provided me with a lot of help in areas where I wasn't proficient.

Dr. Zhao:

Not only does SURF not limit to certain majors, but on the contrary, I encourage students from different majors to apply. From the perspective of students, undergraduate students are different from graduate and doctoral students. Their research directions are not yet fixed, and their interests need exploration. SURF can provide an opportunity to explore beyond their majors. From the perspective of projects, a project involves many roles. Some roles emphasize professionalism, such as operating chemical instruments, while others do not have professional barriers, such as designing posters and scheduling field observations. Students from different majors can always find roles that suit them and play to their strengths. In terms of teamwork, undergraduate students can meet more peers from other majors through SURF, sparking more ideas and expanding their networks and horizons.

Do Lower-grade students Have The Opportunity To Be Enrolled In SURF?

Among the SURF students supervised by Dr. Zhao, Ziqi Zhao was in the first year, and Jingyi Chen and Yilin Mi were in the second year.

Ziqi Zhao :

When I applied for SURF, I was a freshman. I believe that freshmen should try more, especially in fields they are interested in, stepping out of their comfort zones. Don't think that just because you haven't taken professional courses yet and don't know anything, you shouldn't apply. In fact, practice is the best way to learn. As a teacher in the department said, "Starting to do is the beginning of everything. Not doing anything is 0, but doing something is 1."

Dr. Zhao:

For lower-grade students participating in SURF, both their weaknesses and strengths are apparent. Weaknesses lie in being too young, lacking in knowledge and skills, not mature enough to handle tasks, and often undertaking relatively basic work in SURF. However, advantages also stem from being young; graduation is still distant, providing enough time and great potential to translate SURF achievements into forum presentations, competitions, patents, and academic papers. XJTLU is student-centered, and our teachers' mission is to educate and nurture students. While the short-term goal of SURF is to complete a research project, the long-term goal remains helping students realize their self-worth and cultivating talent for society, regardless of their grade level. I suggest lower-grade students discuss their interests with potential supervising teachers during the application season, understand the specific requirements of the project for participants, and express their expectations to the teachers, thus deciding whether to apply for the project.

Content source: Dr. Peng Zhao

08 May 2024