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In the Focus

2017 Graduate Stories - Zhang Lingqi: "The most important is to find your direction and passion"

Jun 6, 2017 Latest

On a sunny afternoon, we sat down with 2013 Computer Science and Engineering Department undergraduate Zhang Lingqi. He had just arrived back from the United States, where he completed his graduation project in UCLA and was preparing for his defense.

As of mid-2017, Zhang can comfortably be described as successful, with excellent scientific research abilities and good discipline. He received multiple offers from some of the world's top universities including PhD positions at Cambridge University's Department of Engineering, at New York University's Department of Neuroscience, as well as at the University of Pennsylvania, while UCLA's Department of Cognitive Psychology offered him a position as scholar. After some discussions with each party, he finally decided to go to the University of Pennsylvannia to continue his cognitive, behavioral science and computational neuroscience research.

As a computer science graduate, Zhang can be described as a wonderkid – he talks and thinks like a professional, his sense of logic transpires in every word. "Now for my future, it's very clear. If I think about the four years I spent at SUSTech, I think the most important for me was that through step-by-step exploration, I found the direction of my passion" Zhang says with a smile.

"The freedom of SUSTech to explore attracted me"

During high school Zhang Lingqi began to keep an ear out for news about SUSTech, which was launched with the mission to reform China's higher education. He followed the recruitement sessions and lectures, and rapidly gained a more in-depth understanding. Growing up in Zhejiang, his natural choice could have been Zhejiang University due to its proximity, but he hesitated and weighed up his preferences: finally deciding to apply for SUSTech. "In retrospect, my decision-making process was simple, it was the fact that SUSTech encourages free exploration, and the academic atmosphere that attracted me, because I think the university was still looking to be a place where you can settle down and study what you like”.

After coming to SUSTech, Zhang said he was very glad about his choice: "Whether it is about being able to talk with my mentor at any time, or go to my laboratory very early to do my research, I always felt that my expectations were met". Whenever he had questions about his research or about his career-prospects, he always went to his tutor. "As a freshman and sophomore Professor Cheng Xin gave me a lot of guidance, as well as Professor Wang Qi. They would share their experiences and ideas, and we built a relationship that was almost like good friends. In fact, the university professors are always willing to communicate with the students”.

When asked about difficulties, he said the English training was quite challenging for him. "The textbooks we use are in English so at the beginning it's twice as tough to keep up with the classes. But soon you find your English reading and writing skills improve very quicky, which is extremely important also for reading literature and writing our own papers in the future”.

"An open general education allowed me to discover my real interest"

Zhang recalls an anecdote when asked about how he decided what to study: One of the teachers at Yangzhou University opened a science and technology ethics course at the University of Yangzhou to discuss some of the basic code of conduct and the reasons behind the scientific and technical staff conducting scientific research. "I have been very sure since high school that I will learn computer science, but these general classes here at SUSTech made me suddenly realise that my interests may be more extensive than I used to imagine. The general education during the first stage of study is like opening a window, and I have definitely found new and exciting subjects which I want to go further into. "

As a freshman having not yet determined the direction he was going to take, he explored various fields: "When a subject starts to trigger your curiosity, you want to find out more about everything." Zhang Lingqi said with a smile. He had a few teachers in a group who offered him a temporary job, as a freshman in the summer. He joined the team of He Jiankui's research group in biological information research, where he was tasked with writing algorithms for the gene sequence comparison to find out mutations, and in the process he met a lot of like-minded friends. In his second year he joined Hao Qi's teacher group, where he was involved in UAV visual identification data processing chip research, "Although this experience and my later research direction is different, it allowed me to accept the engineering angle of the training”.

Zhang uses the theory of sensitive dependency on initial condition in a complex system to describe the impact of general education and diversification on their own. "For many complex systems, the final outcome of one thing will be affected by a lot of initial conditions, and if the initial conditions are slightly different, it will lead to a very different final result". During his 2nd year summer vacation, he participated in mathematical modeling and found out about kinetic systems mentioned in the concept of chaos which he found fascinating. Coincidentally, he soon after attended a lecture by professor Xia Zhihong on this concept, which brought him to research the topic further, and so he took the initiative to read some books, including one popular science book: "Complexity: a Guided Tour". In it he found a lot of information about the complexity of systems concept, such as human society, ant communities, the nervous system. "That summer I was reading this book, staring at the chapters for a long time, and I suddenly put it together in my head with some of the previous ideas I studied. Suddenly, I felt that computers, mathematical modeling, neuroscience, these things all integrated into a common framework, and this feeling was amazing, and from that time onwards, I decided that I wanted to dedicate my efforts to brain science research. These research subjects are mainly based on the basic model of information processing and artificial intelligence as a theoretical tool, as well as the electronic system of signal and system-related courses. That's why I say the SUTech learning environment and path is very inclusive, as long as you are interested in all the knowledge you can learn”.

The young student went to UCLA's Department of Psychology and Department of Neurology for summer research, where he put in an excellent performance according to his UCLA mentor, and was later invited to return again to join the UCLA-CSST, the University of California, Los Angeles's branch of interdisciplinary research scholars in science and technology. On the topic of the exchange, he said: "SUSTech's foreign exchanges is also a great opportunity for us to broaden our horizons. In a new environment, you will have a new understanding and angle on many things”.

Overall Zhang highly recommended the university to all the younger students who he said must look to the long-term: "I think it is important to take advantage of the freedom and opportunities that SUSTech offers” he explains, “your career or the direction of your research, these are very long term timeframes while your undergraduate years will go very quickly. Try to explore as many options as possible, broaden your horizons and find your true passion. Don't think in short-term interests and practical choices”.

By the end of the interview, it was early morning in the United States, our reporter asks him if still feels the effect of the jet-lag. He replied with his signature smile “It's time to prepare for Friday's defense” and headed back to work.

Contributed by: Student News Agency Li Xiaodan

Photos by: Student News agency Chen Cong

Edited by: Jeremy Welburn

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