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In the Focus

Class of 2018 Graduate Wu Tingting: A Dream Chaser Who Dares to Try

Jun 8, 2018 Special Report

Chasing one's dreams and becoming who they want to be is a goal that takes many people a lifetime to achieve. Fortunately for Wu Tingting, she has found her way and realized her dreams after trial and error through her academic journey at SUSTech.

As an independent young woman, Tingting has undertaken research in three completely separate fields. During the application season, she followed her heart by going for a doctoral program that is different from her major and successfully received offer letters from University College London, Boston University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Illinois at Chicago, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and University of California, Irvine. When picking university programs, she followed her heart again and chose to join the Computational Imaging Group at Washington University in St. Louis.


Trial and Error in Research: Find the Goal and Dare to Explore

People who find their goal at the beginning of the road are the lucky ones but are few and far between. Like most first and second year students, Wu Tingting was lost and confused about her studies, and her future. She chose to cope with the problem by studying and practicing as much as possible because she believed that the experience accumulated along the way would help her find her way.

SUSTech students do not declare major until the third year, to be exposed to the widest array of academic disciplines possible in the first two years. During the pre-declaration period, Tingting took additional major courses in physics and mathematics despite having a strong interest in photoelectricity. Tingting said: "The extra courses are really helpful in training my logic. They play a major role in my outstanding academic performance -- always ranking at No.1 in major courses and achieving 95 out of 100 points for 40% of my courses."

Wu Tingting started doing laboratory research in the second half of her first year. While it expanded her horizons, she was unsure of her future because of changing projects multiple times. Tingting began her research with materials characterization, then shifted to the study of fiber optic sensors, given its importance to her major of photoelectricity. She eventually chose computational imaging as her graduation project topic and concentrated on it for her upcoming doctoral studies.

These changes took Tingting lots of time to adjust and brought her a great deal of trouble: having no clue about the results produced by the hydrothermal reactor, not being able to explain the experimental phenomenon with existing fiber optic theory, to name but a few. In situations like these, she would calm herself down, reflect on the entire experiment procedure, and think more about choices of future research focuses.

Despite taking some academic detours, Tingting doesn't think it was a waste of time. She connected the dots between her three completely different projects by saying: "I discovered my interest in advanced imaging technology while doing material characterization, and this particular interest laid the foundation of my Ph.D. research field -- computational imaging. Later, my research in fiber optic sensors sparked my new interest in theoretical analysis and computation in optics, which led me to choose photoelectricity, a related field, as my undergraduate major. "

"I slowly discovered my research field by searching for the part that was most interesting and suitable for me in each different research project." Through trial and error in three completely different research projects, Tingting became one of the few SUSTechers to engage in multiple academic fields and found her strengths.

The experiences also made her a more determined and confident person. Looking back, Tingting said: "The ending or result is never the most important element in a journey. What really matters is fostering the ability to find your direction and trying your best along the way."

Planning Her Future: Find A Goal and Go For It

After finding her way, Teaching Engineer Xu Linlin from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering served as Wu Tingting's torchbearer in advanced research. Dr. Xu guided Tingting to go through every single step of her full research experience: applying for project approval, preparing research materials, carrying out experiments and writing an academic paper.

"It was a very challenging but unforgettable experience," Tingting recalled: "In order to find the quantitative theory of blue shift in optical fiber sensing, I locked myself in a dark room, went through over a dozen bilingual papers on mathematical derivation, and wrote a whole wall of derivation formulas and calculation notes. It felt like a taste of my upcoming Ph.D. life." Because of Tingting's "quasi-PhD experience," she can now single-handedly lead Provincial Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training Projects and publish academic papers in the journals of the Society of Chemical Industry as the first author.

Wu Tingting has since become more focused than ever, fully knowing what she wants and needs. She has turned down offers from well-known research groups because she cares more about her research interests. When facing offers from a wide range of high-quality universities in the United States and the United Kingdom, she also chose interest over university ranking by joining Washington University at St. Louis (WUS). Due to her extremely rich and diverse research experience, she received a five-year full scholarship from the Computational Imaging Group at WUS.

In telling her story, Tingting wants to inspire others and tell them it is okay to feel lost and uncertain at times. She hopes her experience can encourage more and more students to choose optics as their major or future career.

Not Giving Up Pastime Hobby: Keep Walking, Drawing, Dancing

Wu Tingting's academic choices revolve around her personal interests. Similarly, she arranges her daily life with a variety of hobbies. Outside of the laboratory, she devotes most of her time to drawing. Despite having been drawing since she was a child, Tingting never had the chance to receive professional training. Therefore, she took advantage of academic resources within and outside SUSTech to study European art history and other drawing techniques throughout her time on campus. In the meantime, she kept diaries in the form of drawing and produced three books of her unique work.

Tingting also poured her artistic enthusiasm into extracurricular activities on campus. As the Communications Department Director of the Optical Society SUSTech Branch, she used drawings to teach children optical knowledge in elementary schools. She said it felt very rewarding to see them become interested in science at such a young age.

She also likes to sing and dance in her spare time and participated twice in the "Do You Hike" 100km Walking Competition in suburban Shenzhen.

Inspiration from Great Teachers and True Friends: Making Her Who She Is Today

"I'm a lucky person because I am always guided and inspired by role models around me, be it teachers, professors or peers," Tingting said. Her high school headteacher used to volunteer in Africa and had Chinese-Language teaching experience in Florence, Italy, which encouraged her to foster multiple interest and hobbies in academia and daily life. At university, her academic advisor Zhang Xinhai successfully industrialized his research findings, which helped Tingting to abandon the outdated mindset and focus on the positive social impacts of scientific research. Tingting's graduation project advisor Zhang Fucai is a focused perfectionist; whose state of mind is Tingting's ultimate goal.

Wu Tingting also owes her success to her university schoolmates, who participated in multiple projects and burned the midnight oil with her. To improve the infrared communication device and the bladeless fan, Tingting and her peers skipped the 2015 New Year countdown and spent the whole night around an engine. "It was bittersweet at the moment, but it is such a rewarding and experience when looking at it now. I guess you can call it a unique way of friendship bonding, right?" Tingting said with a smile on her face: "These people are so much more than my project groupmates. Many of them are my true soulmates, and they are amazing in their own ways: some are calm and low-profile, some are outgoing and passionate, some are independent and quiet, some are enthusiastic and helpful, some are born to be leaders, and some are natural doers. Through being friends with them, I have learned to find each person's unique strengths, which can complement my weaknesses. I will be forever thankful for having met them, and I truly appreciate SUSTech for providing me with a platform to meet so many amazing individuals."

Original Chinese Article by Zhang Jiachen (Student News Agency)

English Translation by Fan Yining

Proofreading by Chris Edwards

Photos by Zhang Xiaoyan




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