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“The most important thing I have learnt is working smart”, Testimony from Terence Lee, first alumnus

Terence Lee is a PhD candidate at the University of Hong Kong School of Biomedical Sciences. His current research project focuses on autophagy and more specifically LC3, a marker of autophagosomes. He is a laureate of the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole Fellowship 2021 and has just completed his internship at the Membrane Biochemistry and Transport Laboratory, directed by Dr Thomas Wollert at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

As the first HKU-PRP Fellow, he shared with us his feedbacks on pursuing a research internship at Institut Pasteur from 23rd August to 23rd November 2021.

Why did you want to apply for HKU-Pasteur Research Pole Fellowship?

The research culture in Hong Kong places an emphasis on disease mechanism and translational research. Through my PhD studies, I developed an interest on basic cell biology research which asks how cells work instead of investigating their disease relevance. I still remember vividly one of my professors in HKU said ‘Basic research forms the basis of translational research, without basic research you will have nothing to translate.’ However, it is easier said than done. When I read cell biology papers, I am always surprised at how cell biologists come up with creative ideas to conduct their studies, I want to know how cell biologists think and work. HKU-Pasteur Research Pole Fellowship offers me a chance to work in a laboratory of my interest under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Wollert an expert in autophagy.

According to you, what is one of the most important things you have learnt?

The most important thing I have learnt is working smart. I am more of a hard worker than a smart worker, and it is not a bad thing at all. However, being hard working sees part of the picture, being smart and hard working sees the whole picture. Thomas did not ask me to do a lot of experiments, instead he asks me to do a suitable experiment. He reminded me that instead of doing an experiment one over the other, sometimes it is more important to take a step back and see why things might not be working. Prioritizing my work and preventing doing irrelevant experiments for the sake of it, I hope this experience would help me to work efficiently and less of a headless chicken in the future.

Will you recommend this research internship at the Institut Pasteur to your colleagues/other students?

Absolutely! The research internship offers an excellent opportunity for students to experience an entirely different research culture. Researchers need ideas to refresh our minds. And after staying in the same lab for over 3 years, going to Institut Pasteur allowed me to gain new insights and new approaches to research questions.

Institut Pasteur organizes research seminars frequently and allows us to learn research works from different fields. For instance, Institut Pasteur organized a triptych seminar (3-department joint seminar) featuring students and PIs from developmental, cell biology and immunology departments, from that seminar I learnt a lot about their latest work as well as the objective of their studies, research design and their future directions. Even you can read their works on journal articles, it was an entirely different experience as they offered you a perspective in the seminar.

Being a PhD student whose work is focused on molecular virology, I have an invaluable experience moving to the host laboratory specializing in cell biology. Thomas taught me to look at things in greater detail, and the implications of small changes, things that I would not have noticed as a molecular virologist. I can also realize whether cell biology is a field suitable for me, this experience has helped me to be certain that I would like to pursue a career as a cell biologist.

How can this research internship contribute to your professional training?

One of the downsides of working in a project that is not fully relevant to my current research work is that most of the technical skills I learnt in Paris would be unlikely to be directly ‘useful’ for my upcominh PhD. However, the research internship is also one of the best things that happen to me. In the early stage, I was lost and out of the loop. With the help of Thomas and other group members, I became more and more independent and started to develop my own thoughts on the project (still I am very lost). This experience gives me faith to believe in myself, to have the confidence to face challenges ahead, and to trust things will get better over time. The self-belief would motivate me to have the patience and passion to do better in my current study.

What are your plans for the near future?

Continue to work hard and apply lesson learnt in my research internship to my study. Stay in tune with the latest updates in cell biology research and try to identify my research interest. Upon completion of my studies, look for opportunities to further explore cell biology and hopefully make some interesting discoveries there!


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