My four-year battle with Shengchao

Shengchao told me that he eventually decided to take the offer from Hainan University. I am very happy! Not only because he promises me to send me Hainan coconut chips whenever I want. More importantly this seems to imply that I am the winner of an on-going four-year battle between us 😉

What is the four-year battle you may ask? It’s whether Shengchao will continue in the sciences after his PhD or pursue an alternative career.

Back in 2018, at our first meeting when Shengchao first joined my group. I asked him whether he was willing to engage in the sciences after obtaining a PhD degree: PhD students at Tsinghua usually have a choice of career opportunities, and having an academic job is just one of those options, though usually a less well paid one. Understandably many students take on non-scientific jobs after receiving their PhD.

At that time, as a dedicated early-career scientist, I longed to meet more and more young people sharing similar career interests as myself, so that it wouldn’t feel like I’m walking a lonely hard road. Unfortunately, my first student Shengchao didn’t appear to be that person. He was not sure, which meant NO in a polite way.

I was disappointed, especially given that he is smart and really good at scientific work. To me, it seemed a pity that people would waste their talents by undertaking non-scientific jobs. Obviously, I was quite narrow-minded at that stage of my career and decided to battle with him – trying to make Shengchao change his mind.

During the following four years, I witnessed his growth. From presenting his first poster at an international conference in Vienna to defending his PhD thesis at Tsinghua. His is now able to talk about his research continuously for 40 minutes in a fluent, coherent and confident manner. From helping to digitalize the flowchart for my NFSC funding application to designing and tutoring SRT projects for the undergraduate students, he can now conduct scientific research independently in solid fashion. I have watched him from being unsure about what he really wants to pursue to devoting himself to developing a ‘universal model for crop yield’, which assures me that he now has a much clearer picture of his career path.

Interestingly, I too witness changes in me during these four years. It seems that I am no longer desperate to keeping him in academia. When he initially had decided to take an offer from a company, I felt happy for him, even though he later changed his mind. At that moment, I thought as long as this boy is happy about this job, I would be happy for him. Coincidentally, I also noticed that I enjoyed pursuing science more freely with or without accompanies.

Pursing science is something of my choice. Students and postdocs may come and go, but I will be here continuously enjoying my research projects. If someday I quit acdemia, I don’t think I would feel sorry about having wasted my smarts. That’s because there would perhaps be something more attractive for me to enthusiastically dedicate myself to, whether related to the sciences or in other fields.

It seems during the past four years both Shengchao and I have changed our thinking. No one really lost in the battle. In fact, we both have won in our own battles while enjoying life willingly and freely.

Top: We participated the Rainbow running at Tsinghua in 2018 when our battle started; Bottom: Shengchao in academic dress in 2022 when our battle ended


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