In Dialogue with Awardees of 2022-2023 Croucher Study Awards
Please click the thumbnail below for the interview highlights:
CUHK Science upholds the mission of “To educate and inspire the next generation of scientific innovators and leaders; and to expand the frontier of human knowledge.” The Faculty relentless strives for excellence in both undergraduate and postgraduate education, and the training of aspiring next-generation scientists. The Faculty is thrilled to learn that five science alumni have been awarded the 2022-2023 Croucher Study Awards to pursue PhD studies or receive Postdoctoral training at world-renowned overseas institutes. The awardees are CHEUNG Ho Yeuk Mark (Physics/2021), LAU King Heng (Earth System Science/2022), NG Kwan Yeung Ken (Physics/2017), TSE Man Kei Constance (Cell and Molecular Biology/2022) and YANG Tongou Tom (Mathematics/2015; MPhil/2017).
Top row: YANG Tongou Tom (left), LAU King Heng (right)
Bottom row: TSE Man Kei Constance (left), NG Kwan Yeung Ken (right)
The Faculty was glad to invite all awardees (except Mark who was occupied by arranged academic activities) to attend a group online interview. During the interview, these Croucher Scholars reminisced their lives at CUHK, and shared their prospective developments after receiving the prestigious awards. The Faculty hopes that this article would help current students at the Faculty learn how the awardees sailed to their dreams in research, as well as share this exciting and encouraging news with the public.
Conscientiously devised programme as the starting point for research study
Apart from robust scientific knowledge, the undergraduate programmes at CUHK Science provide students from different majors with research internships under the supervision of our faculty members. Four awardees had either enrolled in the Final Year Project (FYP) or the unique internship programmes under their academic units, such as the “Dedicated Research Exchange And Mentorship (DREAM) Programme” from the School of Life Sciences, and the “China and Overseas Study, Internship and Exchange (COSINE) Programme” from the Department of Mathematics. These programmes have equipped the awardees with hands-on research experience, laying the foundation for their early research career.
Constance has loved doing experiments since she was a small kid. Without a second thought, she majored in Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB) programme. After completing the internship at biotech and medical R&D companies, Constance became affirmed in her interest in forefront research. She then undertook an internship at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) through the DREAM programme. After the internship ended, Constance was passionate about cell biology and dedicated herself to pursuing a PhD in plant cellular biology. With the support of the Croucher Foundation, she will further her study with the internship team at UC Davis. Apart from extending her gratitude to Prof. JIANG Liwen (School of Life Sciences) for his supervision, Constance also highlighted the valuable experience of receiving the training in using the First Cryo-FIB system to conduct experiments; it was rare for undergraduates to use this state-of-the-art facility, no matter in Hong Kong or in overseas institutions.
Constance highlighted the valuable experience of receiving the training in using the First Cryo-FIB system to conduct experiments; it was rare for undergraduates to use this state-of-the-art facility, no matter in Hong Kong or in overseas institutions
King Heng has been interested in meteorology since childhood, especially in simulations of tropical cyclone using meteorological models. He aspired to study in the CUHK Earth System Science Programme (Renamed as “Earth and Environmental Science Programme” from September 2022 onwards following its amalgamation with the Environmental Science Programme), the only programme of its kind in Hong Kong offering a focus in atmospheric science. He joined Prof. Francis TAM’s research group in the summer of his sophomore year, as Professor Tam is an expert in meteorological research. During his summer research, King Heng participated in meteorological model research with Professor Tam’s industrial collaborator. Compared with the knowledge acquired from lectures, King Heng enjoyed the discovery unearthed from hands-on research. Under Professor Tam’s recommendation, King Heng conducted his final year research project under the guidance of a tropical cyclone expert in Taiwan. The experience further consolidated his skills in operating meteorological models, and this experience will also benefit him in his doctoral study in atmospheric physics at Imperial College London.
Under Professor Tam’s recommendation, King Heng conducted his final year research project under the guidance of a tropical cyclone expert in Taiwan and the experience further consolidated his skills in operating meteorological models and benefit him in his doctoral study in atmospheric physics.
After graduating with a bachelor degree in physics, Ken pursued his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ken recalled fondly that his score in the public examinations should have been enough for him to be admitted to coveted top undergraduate programmes, such as medicine. Ken said that the reason, and the only reason, for majoring in physics was because “I think the theory of particle physics is very fascinating.” He has been influenced by Prof. CHU Ming Chung’s research excellence since his secondary school years. In Ken’s Year 3 study, he met another mentor, Prof. LI Guang Feng Tjonnie, an expert in gravitational physics. Professor Li was the only representative from a Hong Kong institution when he worked on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in 2009. Ken switched his research direction to gravitational physics under the supervision of Professor Li and gained a lot, including his PhD research direction at MIT. With the support of the Croucher Study Award, he will start his William H. Miller III postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University Department of Physics and Astronomy. Ken was grateful to meet numerous world-renowned physicists from different fields. Apart from the quality teaching, Ken pointed out that the robust network spanning wide research spectrum acquired through supervisors enabled students to gain opportunities to conduct forefront research at large-scale physics experiments and observatories, such as European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and LIGO.
Ken (Right) and his PhD supervisor, Prof. Salvatore VITALE at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Tom received his bachelor and MPhil degrees at CUHK. Through the COSINE programme during his undergraduate studies, he spent a year conducting research under the supervision of Prof. DUAN Renjun. The research experience reinforced his dream of pursuing a research career. After graduating from the bachelor programme, he furthered his MPhil study under Prof. YUNG Po Lam’s supervision. Those research experiences laid the foundation for his PhD study at the University of British Columbia. Tom was impressed by the low student-faculty ratio and wide range of research fields at CUHK compared to overseas institutions. These features encouraged students to explore their capabilities and unleash their potential under the guidance of supervisors in diverse research areas.
Tom was impressed by the wide range of research fields at CUHK that encouraged students to explore their capabilities and unleash their potential under the guidance of supervisors in diverse research areas.
Tips for applying Croucher Study Award
During the interview, all Croucher scholars agreed that preparing the six-page proposal well was the key to success for the award. Applicants are required to define their research topics and provide the research background, methodology, and expected deliverables. The process seems to be similar to other grant proposals. However, they emphasised that the Croucher Foundation would invite elite experts related to the shortlisted applicants’ fields to review and assess the proposals. The questions for the proposal were extremely sophisticated. If the applicants did not have an excellent grasp of the subject of their research proposal, even if they have outstanding academic results to their credit, there is no way that they can pass the assessment.
Constance and King Heng took the same view that their proposed research topics were the questions that aroused their interests the most. Therefore, this thought drove them to conduct a literature review of the research background and principles and compare the pros and cons of a vast range of research methods. Their proposals have embodied their excellent academic achievements as well as their passion for research.
Tom, on the other hand, quoted the mission of the Croucher Foundation that the award aims to nurture future researchers under the supervision of prominent academics in their respective fields. Besides searching the research topics he was interested in, he also invited a Fields medallist, Prof. TAO Chi Shen Terence, to be his supervisor for the proposed postdoctoral training. Ken said his preparation work for applying to the Croucher study award was similar to other proposals, except for the application deadline. He also reminded prospective applicants to bear in mind the variation of panel compositions among funding agencies. For instance, the panel of NASA comprised specialty experts, while some panels from other agencies comprised academics crossing disciplines. For the interdisciplinary panel, applicants may consider avoiding the use of too much jargon. Although a glamorous research plan with exaggerated deliverables may catch panel’s eye, Ken emphasised that a robust research plan with achievable expected research outcomes under the support of the study award are actually of greater importance.
Messages for students - from “Yourself in five years”
All attendees delightfully shared their good times studying at CUHK. Constance is fond of farming, and she would go to the farmland in Tai O with her friends. The moment King Heng cherished the most during his time at CUHK was his gathering with friends from his programme, which felt like returning home to him. He feels that the relatively small number of students in the programme fostered supportive relationships among its students and teachers, many of whom have become close friends. Tom was a member of a hostel’s residents’ association. Apart from organising various student activities, he also served as the bridge between local and mainland Chinese students. Ken recalled the wonderful time when he joined Professor Chu's particle physics research and volunteered himself in the outreach education programme for secondary school students for experiment demonstration and the study tour to CERN.
Undoubtedly all of them would make new achievements after five years. The last question from the Faculty was the message for students from “Yourself in five years.” These Croucher scholars from CUHK Science all sincerely encouraged students to follow their hearts to sail toward their dreams regardless of success or failure. Seizing every opportunity at CUHK to try everything, just like doing experiments, would be the key to identifying one’s interests, and don’t get torn between yourself and others. Being open-minded would be crucial for both conducting scientific research and for finding the right path in life.
About Croucher Study Awards
The awards were established to “identify and support talented Hong Kong students and early-career researchers who, through a process of intensive education and exposure to prominent academics in their respective fields, will develop independent and critical abilities and form enduring collaborative partnerships, to enable them to become next generation of leaders of science, technology and medicine in Hong Kong. Eligibility under the following programmes is restricted to permanent Hong Kong residents.”*
* Croucher Foundation https://croucher.org.hk/funding/study_awards
Text: Angela HUNG | Editing: Christine LING