Getting a head start

Overseas-education | Crystal Wu 13 Jul 2021

The Chinese University of Hong Kong has recently announced the annual awardee of its Esther Yewpick Lee Millennium Scholarship. Rice Siu Yiu-ching will be starting the next chapter of her life - pursuing a DPhil in neuroscience at the University of Oxford - this autumn.

"I did not expect any of this - getting into Oxford and being awarded a scholarship. I was surprised when the result was announced," she recalled. She immediately shared her excitement with not only her parents but also her biochemistry professor and college master.

The Esther Yewpick Lee Millennium Scholarship is a scholarship that was created to commemorate its namesake, who had close ties to both institutes. Her husband was one of CUHK's founding members, and three generations of the Lee family have studied at Oxford.

Each year, one graduating student or graduate of CUHK will be awarded the scholarship, which covers tuition, as well as room and board, and is paid directly to their college.

Siu first discovered the scholarship through the university's e-mails and information sessions held by the university's Scholarship and Financial Aid Office.

"Without the great education, learning opportunities, and resources offered by CUHK, I believe I couldn't have gone this far," said Siu.

As she is switching from the field of biochemistry to neuroscience, Siu is immersing herself in her new field to familiarize herself with it.

"In my first year, I will have courses in neuroscience, which will further strengthen my neuroscience background before I start doing my own research. Getting a solid knowledge foundation is important to the development of a scientist," she said.

She also explained that the program at Oxford provides two laboratory rotations in the first year - uncommon for similar programs in the UK.

"Getting the chance to learn in different labs will allow me to have a broader view of science," she said.

"Although neuroscience is a complicated and integrative subject, it is often integrative thinking and collaborative research that sparks new ideas. There is a lot of mixing and matching - you will never reach the end of knowledge in neuroscience and there is so much fun in learning about it."

The aspiring scientist hopes to equip herself with knowledge and one day become a neuroscientist with her own lab, studying psychiatric disorders like insomnia, schizophrenia and Tourette's syndrome from a neuroscience perspective.

But even Siu admits that applying for the prestigious institute was no easy feat, stating that over 200 students applied for the five spots offered.

After meeting the entry requirements and being screened by way of their CVs, personal statements and recommendation letters, a selected few are invited for an interview.

This was the most difficult part of the application for her. "The interview panel consisted of professors from different departments. The questions were quite diverse and difficult. Although I studied biochemistry, questions about pharmacology, microbiology and of course neuroscience were also asked."

Her advice? "The panels are looking for students who are capable of adapting to the learning environment in a field as integrative as neuroscience. Expect to receive questions across many areas."

She also found it more difficult to prepare for the admissions interview during a pandemic, since people are isolated and disconnected from each other.

"I was lucky as I got a lot of help from many professors whenever I encountered difficulties. It was as if they had anticipated I was having a problem and came at the right time," she said, expressing her gratitude to her biochemistry professor Shaw pang-chui, University of British Columbia professor Erik Wong and college master Nicholas Rawlins for their help.

Now looking to prepare for a new stage of life in the UK, Siu has been making friends online to learn more about the local culture. She is also attempting to master British English, as she believes it shows that she is trying her best to adapt to a new country.

"I hope I can be a good guest, so when foreign people hear 'CUHK,' they think that means 'good.'"

The awardee advises students to try talking to supervisors and mentors when they feel like giving up, as they already have experience achieving and overcoming difficulties. Most importantly, she said: "Never give up on hope. Stay positive and be prepared for the luck waiting for you."

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