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In the Focus

Class of 2018 Graduate Chen Wanli: Determined to Dominate His Academic Domain

Jul 27, 2018 Special Report

With a determination to become the master of his research field, Class of 2018 summa cum laude graduate Chen Wanli has conquered many obstacles and succeeded in many fields. He has solved the “cartoon artifact” problem in super-resolution imaging and become the first SUSTech undergraduate to intern at Microsoft Research Asia. He is also the only programmer of the Tsinghua Domestic Keratolithoscope Research Group. Despite having an ambitious yet practical mindset now, Chen Wanli has an unusual upbringing since he was a child.

Unusual Upbringing

Chen Wanli has an elder twin brother called Chen Pengcheng. Their parents wished them all the best, so they name the twin after the Chinese idiom “Pengcheng Wanli,” which means “having a long, bright future like that of a roc.” Besides, the literal meaning of “Wanli” is “thousands of miles,” indicating a long and successful life ahead.

However, both Pengcheng and Wanli fell behind in during middle school. When asked about the reasons, the twins said the teaching progress was too slow and repetitive for them to focus. They did not like to listen to the teachers and learned other advanced knowledge by themselves, leading to their academic underperformance.

Thanks to their intelligent, understanding and decisive mother who discovered their exceptional self-studying skills, the twins were not punished for falling behind in class. Instead, their mother found them a special teacher in a town of Hunan Province. The twins then traveled more than 1,000 kilometers from their home in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province and finished three years of middle school courses in a matter of eight months.

Sending the twins far away from home to a non-typical education program was a risky and hard decision. However, their emerging gift during their studies in Hunan proved their mother right. The teacher spoke highly of the twins, saying they were highly intelligent children with fast and exceptional self-learning skills.

After eight months of successful training, the twins wanted to return to a higher grade of their middle school. Unfortunately, due to provincial restrictions in Zhejiang, the only choice for them is to participate in the high school entrance examination of other provinces.

Chen Wanli made another hard decision by taking the high school entrance examination in Benxi, Liaoning Province, which is over 1,500 kilometers away by air. Despite all the twists and turns for him at such a young age, he excelled in the examination and was admitted to Benxi No.2 Senior High School.

Three years later, he got an exceptional score in the National College Entrance Examination. When choosing universities, he listened to his mother’s suggestions, did extensive research on his own, made his own decision, and came to SUSTech, about 2,300 kilometers away from Benxi. Chen Wanli’s educational background has been very unusual, which complements SUSTech’s history. Wanli and SUSTech were destined to match.

Extraordinary Ambition

SUSTech has offered Wanli infinite possibilities, and he took all the opportunities possible to improve himself. In his first year, Wanli was determined to become the master of his future research field – regardless of what field it would be. As a result, he set a seemingly unrealistic goal for himself: getting 90 out of 100 in every course. It is worth noting that courses at SUSTech can be extremely difficult, but he achieved 99% of the goal upon graduation with only one course getting 89.

In the first half of sophomore year, Wanli became the first SUSTecher to attend a mathematics competition and finished in the top 45 in Guangdong Province. The next semester, he joined Professor Zhang Qingfeng’s laboratory after taking Zhang’s Artificial Circuit course.

In his junior year of college, Wanli published his first academic paper. When writing the paper, he found that he was more interested in image data processing than artificial circuits. Wanli then transferred to Professor Shi Hongjian’s laboratory, where he began working on the “cartoon artifact” problem. The problem involves rebuilding extremely blurry images into high-resolution images, and the biggest challenge in the process is to get rid of the jagged edges after enlarging images.

Many researchers had had unsuccessful attempts in trying to find an ideal way to get rid of the jagged edges, but Chen Wanli suddenly thought of using image-guided filtering to deal with the problem during his academic exchange in London. Upon returning to Shi Hongjian’s laboratory, Wanli’s theory proved to be successful in practice. Not only did he earn Professor Shi’s recognition, but he also published an article on the topic with his ground-breaking findings.

Wanli managed to pass five rounds of interview and get an internship position at Microsoft Research Asia, where undergraduates are almost always rejected. During the internship, Wanli had to keep up with his studies at SUSTech. Nevertheless, his academic ranking remained at  the top of the class. He also received an offer from Tencent but had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts. However, being recognized by both Microsoft and Tencent speaks volumes about Wanli’s talent.

Overcoming Disadvantages

Despite all the achievements, Chen Wanli is well aware of his shortcomings and has been overcoming them every day. For instance, he was an introvert who used to blush every time he talked to others. After realizing the importance of communication in research, he pushed himself to be more talkative by joining the student union and participating in public speaking competitions. Gradually, he became outgoing and confident and took a leading position Shuren Residential College’s student union, for which he was the recipient of an award. This award recognized his excellent work in the student union, further proving the successful outcome of his plans.

When Wanli first began doing intern at Microsoft Research Asia, he had very low self-esteem because his colleagues are mostly exceptional Ph.D. candidates. Fortunately, his advisor at Microsoft Luo Chong saw Wanli’s potential and helped him through the obstacles. Microsoft’s perfectionistic scholars always criticized him for Wanli’s mistakes at group meetings. Despite feeling embarrassed every time after the group meeting, Wanli managed to make significant progress in research ability during his three months’ internship.

Future Plans

When talking about the future, Chen Wanli said his priority is to promote the integration of production, learning, and research. Because of his special training experience in rural Hunan, he saw many students studying with lighted candles instead of regular lamps. At that moment, he was determined to contribute to the integration of technology and industry, which would, in turn, create a better economy and education environment. He believed such contribution could get those children out of the bad situation. Another reason for his priority is SUSTech since the university also spares no efforts on the integration of production, learning, and research. He promised to keep working hard, and eventually become the widely-known master of his research field.


Original Article: Tang Jie & Ai Dandi

Translation & Adaptation: Fan Yining

Proofreading: Chris Edwards

Photos: Wang Yin

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