Monday, September 9, 2013

CSST Celebrates Another Successful Summer

By Erin Reyes

They sing, they dance, they play instruments – no, I’m not talking about the latest group of triple threats to audition on America’s Got Talent; they’re the newest crop of CSST students!

Students belt out the Beatles’ hit song “Hey Jude” for their fellow CSST scholars. Photo Credit: Andrew Jesena
CSST, the Cross-disciplinary Scholars in Science and Technology, is a ten-week program that brings together students from all over the globe to carry out their scientific research under the advisement of UCLA’s world-class faculty. Since it was established in 2008 by Dr. Ren Sun, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology and CNSI member, with support from UCLA’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh, the program has hosted 432 of the brightest minds from Asia and across the globe, with an additional 89 students this year.

Dr. Ren Sun, founder and director of CSST, gives a presentation in the CNSI auditorium. Photo Credit: Andrew Jesena
The new campus setting can be a little overwhelming for the students – especially for those who are visiting the United States for the first time – so each morning for the first few weeks of the program, the students gather in the CNSI lobby to showcase their talents and get to know one another in a fun, relaxed setting.

A group of CSST students practice their dance routine for the morning talent show. Photo Credit: Andrew Jesena
Energetic students perform the ubiquitous Gangnam Style dance for their peers during one of the morning talent shows. Photo Credit: Andrew Jesena
The frivolity is a welcome break away from the research-intensive work the students carry out during their time at UCLA. That doesn’t mean the students don’t enjoy working hard in the lab, though; indeed, the program’s scientific focus is particularly appealing for students from abroad who want to come to the U.S. to study a topic besides language.

“I joined the CSST program because it is a research program, not a program aiming for English study,” said Karen Shih, a first-year grad student at Waseda University in Tokyo. “As a student majoring in science and engineering, language is just a tool and research content is much more important.”

Since its inception in 2008, CSST has made quite a name for itself, and its good reputation helps attract prospective students. “CSST is a well-known program in my university and many previous students introduced [it] to me,” said Xinkai Fu, a senior at Nanjing University in China. “I learned that the program focuses on improving our interdisciplinary research ability, which I think is very important for my future career.”

However, Dr. Sun, the program’s faculty director, stresses that CSST is about more than the interdisciplinary research training the students receive throughout the ten weeks that lead up to a final poster presentation, taking place on September 10th. “This program bridges cultures together and promotes goodwill between our university and the top universities in China, Japan, and beyond,” Dr. Sun said.

CSST students unite to boldly take the stage during one the program’s morning talent shows. Photo Credit: Andrew Jesena
In addition to spending time in the lab, students are offered a variety of other activities to supplement their research.

“The students are exposed to cross-disciplinary research through a series of lectures given by world-renowned scientists who have expertise across multiple fields,” said Jiaying Feng, CSST’s administrative director. “There are also seminars teaching the students presentation skills, interview skills for graduate school, ethics in academia, and other information sessions that help the students academically.”

Lynn Talton Yamamoto, the Postdoctoral Affairs Officer for the Dean’s Office at the David Geffen School of Medicine, teaches the students about proper citation formatting for their research. Photo Credit: Andrew Jesena
The well-rounded nature of the program ensures that students get the most out of their time in LA, and many students enjoy the experience so much that they opt to continue their studies at the university. To date, 125 CSST students have made the decision to further their education in various UCLA PhD programs.

This year’s students are not immune to the UCLA bug – many are hoping to return to UCLA for their graduate studies or to get a Ph.D. For instance, Junyuan Feng, a junior from Fudan University in Shanghai, is hoping to return as a grad student to the department of physics. This summer he’s been working with Professor Huan Huang and Dr. Gang Wang to search for a new particle called pentaquark.

Yu Shi, a senior from the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, China, is also considering pursuing an advanced degree in the United States. UCLA is one of his top choices after working with Professor Wei Wang in the computer sciences department this summer. 

Students from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) show their school pride during CSST’s trip to Santa Monica State Beach. Photo Credit: Yu Shi
Xiangzhi Meng, a second-year grad student at Nankai University in Tianjin, China, added: “After the great experience of this summer here, I definitely want to continue a Ph.D. program at UCLA.”

It’s no surprise that Meng wants to return; she has grown to particularly enjoy the academic offerings of UCLA.

“I think the best academic experience is the lab meeting we have every Tuesday,” Meng explained. “People get together to discuss everyone’s research, and there are a lot of inspiring ideas and practical suggestions coming out.”

Discussions aren’t the only stimulating parts of the students’ time in LA. They have plenty of fun outside of the classroom, exploring all that the city has to offer and taking advantage of the beautiful California weather. Some of the students’ favorite non-academic activities include visiting the Getty Villa, hiking Mt. Baldy, and camping in Malibu.

Jing Liu shows off the stunning scenery during the students’ Mt. Baldy hike. Photo Credit: Jing Liu
“CSST is one of the most unforgettable experiences I had in college,” said Fu. “It’s more than just research training. We get to know new people from different fields and different backgrounds, make friends with students from universities across China and Japan and discover a whole new life in LA. I am sure everyone will benefit from this unique experience.”

Likewise, Jia Guo, a senior at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, joined the CSST program to gain more life experience, and he has greatly appreciated getting the chance to meet students from all over China.

“Some friends I met here said it was crazy of us to fly all the way here just to volunteer to do research in the lab, but I think it was worth it!” explained Jing Liu, Guo’s classmate at Zhejiang University. “CSST really provides us with a wonderful opportunity to get in touch with the world’s most advanced technology and great minds.”

Meanwhile, Junyuan’s sentiments about CSST can be summed up in one sentence: “The program is perfect.”

A group of students happily pose for the camera. Photo Credit: Andrew Jesena

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