Originally from China, Yue Qu studied the Masters of Biotechnology (Plant Biotechnology) at the University of Adelaide. He loved it so much, he’s stayed on to do a PhD. We asked him to tell us about his experiences, both as an international student and tackling research for the first time.
By Yue Qu
If one sentence could describe the experience in my university study so far it would be: hard work will eventually pay off as long as you believe in yourself.
Back in 2009, I decided to make the journey from China to Australia to finish my undergraduate degree. As an international student, I knew that I hadn’t chosen an easy path to success as learning in a foreign language can be such a major hurdle, but it was one that I was determined to tackle. The experience was a really positive one and really stimulated my interests in further study in the sciences. After careful consideration, I found that plant biology was what interested me the most, so I searched out new opportunities in postgraduate learning in plant sciences.
Through browsing postgraduate courses, I found one very intriguing degree which appeared to suit my interests very well – the Master of Biotechnology (Plant Biotechnology) at the University of Adelaide. The program includes one-year coursework plus a one-year research project, which I thought would be a good way to enter the research world. My background of study in Australia helped me easily meet the requirements for entry into the course, and after I got the Confirmation of Enrolment letter from the International office at the University of Adelaide, I applied for my visa and got prepared for a new adventure in Adelaide.
In February 2012, I moved to Adelaide and thanks to some friends, I was picked up at the airport and moved into temporary accommodation near the city. On my first day, I walked around the suburb and it just felt like a great place to be; fresh air, clear sky, nice people and strong sunlight of course – like much of Australia. After living in Adelaide for some time, I feel that it is really a fantastic place to live – in fact it is not just me, it has been named one of the world’s most liveable cities.
The first year of my Masters studies at the University of Adelaide went well, and I found the course really fascinating. It allowed me to learn many aspects of plant biotechnology from the fundamental to up-to-date research, as well as some key skills in experimental design and critical thinking. The research project in the second year was a real challenge and also a great opportunity to apply the theoretical and practical knowledge that I had learned from the first year.
For this I joined Dr Matt Gilliham’s lab in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine to carry out a research project on the functional characterization of a candidate salt-tolerance gene in soybean plants. Putting together the research proposal was a relatively straightforward process with the help of my supervisor and my new colleagues. Everything seemed to be well organized and ready to go. I thought it was going to be easy to get results just like you find them in the textbooks. However, the realities of research soon became clear!
I have learned that sometimes experiments don’t work, and while that can be frustrating, being persistent and working hard will pay off – not necessarily today or tomorrow, but eventually. After several months, we uncovered a fascinating story. Along with our colleagues in China at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) we had discovered a novel molecular mechanism that allowed soybeans to survive salty soils. This should lead to improvements in the yield of soybean crops, the fourth largest crop worldwide. The project went so well that at the end of the program, I received top marks and an award at the School’s prize ceremony.
I got hooked on research so I am now following up my soybean project as a PhD student at the University of Adelaide. This is thanks to my mentor and supervisor, Dr Matt Gilliham, and financial support from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. But I really couldn’t have done it without the training and practical experience gained during the Master of Biotechnology (Plant Biotechnology) program. Starting my PhD research has made me realize that the skills of critical and independent thinking and how to work with and learn from others that I picked up in the program have been really valuable.
This is just the beginning though. I learn more each day and am motivated to keep on working hard. I look forward to achieving more results during my PhD program at the University of Adelaide and make further discoveries that could help global food security.