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Researcher of the Month

July 2010

Qiao Lu

Biology major, Class of 2011, Nanjing University/Stony Brook University's "two plus two" program

Mentor: Dr. Neta Dean, Dept of Biochemistry & Cell Biology 

QiaoLu2 + 2 can really add up. Just ask any of the select students in the pilot collaborative program between Nanjing University and Stony Brook University. So far, there's a group of 8 who have had the unique opportunity to do two years of coursework in China and two years in the U.S., leading to a Bachelor’s degree in Biology or Engineering. It would be hard to find a more enthusiastic ambassador for the program than Qiao (Joe) Lu, URECA’s Researcher of the Month; or a more enthuasiastic mentor than Prof. Neta Dean of Biochemistry & Cell Biology! 

Born in Linshui, Sichuan Province, P.R. China, Qiao Lu has shown a curiosity and love of science from an early age. (He also loves badminton, ping-pong, snooker, hiking, and swimming, almost any sport—as well as drawing!) Through the "two plus two" program, Qiao came to SBU in fall 2009 and, in his first semester here, attended Undergraduate Biology’s Fall Open House — a great place to check out research opportunities in biology or biomedicine. After some follow-up emails and interviews, Qiao found a home in the laboratory of Prof. Neta Dean in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. "The lab atmosphere is really good. It’s like a family. It’s warm and a good atmosphere for me to focus better on my research. And Prof. Dean is a good mentor! She’s patient, kind … " Now, most days and evenings— weekends included! — you are sure to find Qiao at the bench, learning genetics and cell biology techniques first-hand, and making progress on his research project, “The role of Myo2 myosin during actin-dependent hyphal formation in C. albicans.” 

URECACelebration2010This summer, Qiao is participating in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scholars 2010 summer program offered through CESAME, where Qiao appreciates the opportunity to interact with student researchers from all over the US. Characteristically, he was among the first of the group to volunteer to give a research presentation! Qiao Lu has also presented a poster at the recent URECA Celebration of Undergraduate Research, the annual campus-wide research poster symposium (April 2010). Following graduation in May 2011, Qiao plans to pursue graduate studies leading to a PhD in immunology, most likely in the U.S. Below are excerpts from his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.

The Interview

Karen: Tell me about your current research, what kind of work you do. 
Qiao: I’m working in the lab of Prof. Neta Dean. I chose to study the role of MYO2 myocin during actin-dependent hyphal formation in Candida albicans. I’m now focusing on: how does this hyphal formation occur; and how is it regulated in Candida albicans. So far, I have worked in Neta's lab for about 6 months. I constructed the plasmid constructs for making mutants. I have gotten the heterozygote and the hemizygote strains that will allow us to analyze the effect of those MYO2 mutations on different phenotypes during hyphal formation in different strains. Now I’m doing the southern blot which is really not so easy. I have to admit that Southern blot maybe the most difficult experiment in my life I have ever made!

Had you had any hands-on lab experience prior to joining the Dean lab?
I learned many things with my lab courses in China and I knew some very basic techniques before I joined her lab. . (We have lab courses similar to Bio 204, Bio 205 and Bio 311 …) But, Neta Dean is my first professor who offered me this great chance to do self-dependent research. And I have learned a lot from doing this research in Neta’s lab [e.g. molecular cloning, PCR, Southern blot, protein analysis (by Western blot); microbiological techniques including preparation of different media required for selection of different prototrophic yeast; phenotypic analysis of fungal mutants defective in hyphal formation using fluorescence microscopy and live imaging analyses; etc.]

How do you think doing research enhances your education?
Actually, it helps a lot! By doing this research, it helps me to put to use the knowledge I have learned in class into practice. As my professor told me, you need to put your knowledge from your head to your hands. And by doing research, it helps me to get better prepared for graduate school. It’s important to get experience doing hands-on work. Last semester, I took the general genetics class, Bio 320. Because I am working on genetics in the lab (making mutants, doing transformation, molecular cloning, PCR, western blot)…all these techniques had something to do with the content of the class in general genetics. So by doing this research, it helped me understand the course better. And in turn, by taking the course, it helped me understand the techniques that I was using in the lab better.

It’s a two-way process then . . . But is it difficult being a beginner, learning new techniques in the lab? 
There’s a saying in China. Everything is difficult at the start. But, in my view, if you get used to it and stick it out, it will be okay. And this process [doing independent research] really has helped me learn a lot. It’s really worth it to do. For example, the first thing I did in the lab was cloning MYO2 into a plasmid. I did that experiment during the whole winter break. It took 3 weeks to make this first cloning. And later, last semester, just in two weeks I did two molecular clonings successfully. So you see the difference: it’s always hard and slow to start. And then after you get familiar with it, everything goes more smoothly.

What is your lab environment like for you? 
The lab atmosphere is really good! It’s like a family. It’s warm and a good atmosphere for me to focus better on my research. Prof. Dean is a good mentor! She’s patient, kind … she helped me a lot both in theory and techniques. My English at the time I entered the lab still needed work. But Prof. Neta Dean has had great patience with me. She explains carefully and clearly to let me understand …

Have you had chances to present your work?
Last week, in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program, I did a presentation, a PowerPoint presentation, about my work in the lab. It’s another good experience for me to learn and grow. And before that I did a poster for URECA's celebration of undergraduate research. That was the first time I did a poster presentation. I was very nervous that day…. I remember three professors went to my poster and asked me questions. I had the chance to tell them about the process I'm studying, my research, my goals, what hypothesis/what model I used, what expected results I should get in the future…what I’m going to do next. And they all gave me some ideas! They also gave encouragement! It was a great experience!

Have you always been interested in science?
When I was young, about 7 or 8, my teacher asked every student a question: what are you going to do in the future? And I said: “I want to be a scientist.” And I would still give the same answer. Science continues to interest me more and more, and I have discovered that I like doing research better than any other work....

What do you like about research?
You can get knowledge from the process. It’s interesting– the work. And when you have a little bit of success, you feel GREAT satisfaction! I like being in the lab, doing the work. I’m curious about this processes happening. When I watch the cells grow, I ask myself how it's regulated. I want to know more about this….to figure things out. Doing the research is even more interesting than lecture courses alone. You learn better by doing research.

What are your long-term plans?
I want to apply for a PhD degree in biology for graduate school. I’m most interested in the field of immunology and pathogenesis. These are very new fields, with potential to have more success, more achievement. …..a lot of things in these fields haven’t been well understood or explained yet.

Do you have opportunities to talk about science with other students?
Every month, we have a yeast lab meeting for all the yeast labs. You can meet a lot of other students and professors. It’s a good time to meet others, to get to know others’ work, to get new ideas.

Typically how much time do you spend in the lab?
A lot. I spend at least 4 to 8 hours, sometimes more, every day in the lab either to study the theory, read papers, or to do my research. It’s better for you to do something continuously, not to be interrupted. I want to move forward. I want to know the mechanics of this thing (hyphal formation). I am curious about science.

What was the best research day?
Every time I do something that works (i.e. get a mutant, do the molecular cloning successfully), I am very happy!

What is the most frustrating thing in your research?
Southern blot!

Do you have any other plans for current year? 
I’m applying for a TA position for Biology 325, Animal Development. Also, I will do my best to publish a paper together with my professor and technician. I remember what my mother always told me: just try your best. If you didn’t achieve your goal, its’ ok but at least you tried. If you got it, “Congratulations!” Just set up your mind to do it. Put yourself into those tasks. Try your best. That’s it.

Do you like talking to other people, teaching and explaining science?
I like to share my studying method, my knowledge, to help others to get a higher score. This is one reason I am applying for the TA position in BIO 325. It’s a way to share knowledge and exchange ideas; at the same time, it can help you to get a deeper understanding. When you talk to others, you know the subject better; and you can get more and more familiar with questions.

What quality, in your opinion, makes for a successful scientist?
There are many qualities you need to have in order to be a good scientist. Honesty, patience. need to be patient because you will make a lot of mistakes. You will have a lot of failure while doing research. You need to be optimistic when faced with these failures. And you need to be hardworking and not give up halfway. My mentor, Prof. Dean, always encourages me. She tells me: “Doing research is like life. Sometimes you are at apex, sometimes at the low part, the trough.” She also told me, “research means re-search. You need to do it again and again.”

Is it difficult to balance your time while studying and doing research as an undergraduate?
It was hard at the beginning.... Now I’m better at managing these things. I'm working the lab for HHMI summer program, working on studying for the GRE test…also trying to get a driver’s license!

Did your parents encourage you in scientific pursuits? 
My parents encouraged me to pursue scientific study. And I always showed plenty of curiosity in science. I got a very good education when I was young –from my mother and father. Not just about science, but I mean life education: how to be a good person… how to face problems in life. Parents are the best teachers in one’s life. They are the first teachers and the best teachers.

And you’re here on an exchange program with a university in China?
Yes, I’m in a special program named the two + two program, between Nanjing University in China, and Stony Brook University. This 2+2 means two years of studying in China at Nanjing University, and two years here at Stony Brook University. Nanjing University is among the top 5 universities in China, it’s a very good school. Stony Brook Universityis really good too! I feel very lucky!

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